Executive Sessionby Senator Richard Blumenthal
Posted on 2013-02-14
BLUMENTHAL. Mr. President, I am proud to stand here to support
the nomination of Chuck Hagel as our next Secretary of Defense.
I believe he will be confirmed by this Chamber, I hope, on a bipartisan basis. He is, in fact, extraordinarily qualified for this position of unique trust and responsibility. That is the criterion we must apply. Is he qualified? We may have, probably each of us does have among us 100 Senators, someone whom we would make our first choice or a better choice or is the right person, in our view. That is not the question before us. It is whether he is qualified to be part of the President's team and to be held accountable for the policies the President sets.
Chuck Hagel is a decorated war veteran with two Purple Hearts. He is a highly successful businessman and entrepreneur and a real manager at a time when we need a manager in the Department of Defense.
He is a former colleague as a Member of this body, but he is also a former deputy head of the Veterans' Administration. He has given his life to public service and, most especially, to helping men and women in uniform while they serve this country in the military, and then when they come back to civilian life, helping them contribute and continue to give back to this Nation.
He is a Republican who has won the confidence of President Obama and whom President Obama has chosen to be a member of his team.
We speak, as Members of the Senate, about giving the President a measure of deference, a prerogative in making the selection about who will serve on his team because it is the President who sets policy. The President will set our policy on the Middle East and on Israeli security. Chuck Hagel has said he is committed, unequivocally, clearly, unambiguously, to the security of Israel and to whatever weapons systems are necessary to provide Israel in maintaining and sustaining that security, the Iron Dome, David's Sling, and other measures this Nation has committed to its great ally in the Middle East. This is an ally that is necessary not only to stability there and hopefully to peace but also to our national interests. Chuck Hagel may have made comments in the past that seemed to vary somewhat from the President's policy, but it is the President who sets that policy and whom we will hold accountable for that policy.
Likewise, on Iran, Chuck Hagel has said he is in favor of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, not containing it but preventing it. Whatever his past says, it is the President who sets that policy. Chuck Hagel has indicated he is completely in accord with it, in support of it, and will implement it. Again, it is the policy of the President to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, and we must in this body give support and encouragement to the President in being strong and tough, setting even stronger and tougher sanctions, and using the military option, if necessary, to stop a nuclear-armed Iran.
Going from policy to what I think is perhaps the unique challenge of the next Secretary of Defense, which is to attract and retain the best and the brightest to our military--we talk all the time about people being our greatest asset in the military. We have weapons systems that defy the imagination, let alone comprehension.
At the end of the day, the people who run those weapons systems, the people who staff and work every day to keep America safe, are the ones who are our greatest asset. At a time when we are bringing troops back from Afghanistan when Secretary-to-be, hopefully, Hagel, has indicated we ought to do it even more quickly, our greatest challenge will be to prevent the hollowing out of our military as has occurred in the wake of past conflict.
That hollowing out is not only about hardware and weapons; it is about the people who command and the people who run those weapons. We need to ensure we keep those midlevel officers and enlisted members who are so important to the leadership of our military. Chuck Hagel's leadership and commitment will be critical to that task.
I have met with Chuck Hagel privately. I asked him tough questions about Iran and Israel. I am satisfied on those points that he will advise the President in accord with those policies.
But even more important, I am struck by his passion and the intensity of his commitment to our men and women in uniform. His caring about them is indicated in so many ways--spontaneously and strongly in his testimony as well as in his private conversation. He will make sure that sexual assault in the military--the epidemic and scourge of rape and assault against men and women who serve and sacrifice for this country--will be stopped; that there will be, in fact, zero tolerance not only in word but in deed, and his viewing, for example, of the documentary ``Invisible War''--his understanding that this kind of misconduct is an outrage, never to be even complicitly condoned and to treat as a criminal offense the most extreme kind of predatory criminal activity is important to the future of our military and our men and women in uniform.
He is committed to making sure that women in combat--a policy of the President--is implemented forcefully and faithfully. He is committed to making sure the policy of repealing don't ask, don't tell is implemented zealously and vigorously. He is committed to making sure that our veterans--not only for our returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans but also for the veterans of his own generation--our Vietnam veterans who had Post-Traumatic Stress at a time when it was undiagnosed and, in fact, unknown as a condition resulting from combat--have the benefit of policies and practices we are now implementing to deal with Post-Traumatic Stress and traumatic brain injuries.
He is also committed, equally importantly, to making sure the epidemic of suicide among our currently serving men and women in uniform and also our veterans is addressed forcefully. There are tragedies every day involving those suicides--families who lose loved ones and a country that loses a great public servant--and Chuck Hagel cares about those men and women. He will see a person in uniform not as simply an officer or an enlisted man but as someone who will soon be a veteran and become part of a continuum.
Chuck Hagel has served the VA as well as now in the Defense Department, and he will make sure the transition from active service to reservist service is seamless; that veterans are provided with the transition assistance they need for employment, education, and health care, and that our National Guard receives the respect and service it deserves.
I am convinced Senator Hagel's No. 1 priority will be taking care of our troops. He was a veteran's advocate with the USO, and he has won the respect and admiration of veterans groups. In addition, he has won the support of an extraordinary array of former Secretaries of Defense, ambassadors and diplomats, senior retired military leaders, and, in particular, two former Members of this body who appeared with him at his testimony, former Senators Warner and Nunn.
[[Page S728]] I believe Chuck Hagel is the right man for the fiscal challenges that will confront the Department of Defense. Putting aside sequester--which I dearly hope will not happen; Secretary Panetta has said it would be irresponsible for the Congress to allow it to happen, and many of us agree it must be avoided--and the challenges in the next month or series of months, the long-term outlook for the Department of Defense is that it must do more with less, and Secretary Hagel, if he is confirmed, will have that management task. He is one of the people in this country who is almost uniquely qualified to carry it out, and I believe he will, with great distinction. He will take care of our men and women in uniform and strengthen our national defense. He will do what he thinks is right, even if it is not popular.
Finally, Chuck Hagel is, as everyone has said, a good and decent man. And I thank in particular Senator McCain for his very compelling and telling comments during our consideration before the vote in the Armed Services Committee. He said, and I agree, that no one should impugn Chuck Hagel's character. He is a person of integrity and character, and I believe he will have the respect at all levels of our defense--the men and women who serve and sacrifice every day, the men and women who are essential to our national security--and I recommend him and urge my colleagues to support him.
I respectfully hope he will be confirmed quickly and that it will be done on a bipartisan basis so we will be united--as our Armed Services Committee in this body is almost always united--in favor of the President's choice for this uniquely important responsibility.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Ms. Baldwin). The Republican whip.