Hagel for Equality: Defense Secretary Nominee Chuck Hagel Endorses Support For Same-Sex Couple Military Benefits
Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s pick for Defense secretary, supports equal benefits for same-sex military couples.
He made the pledge in a Monday letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., where he also promised to support government-paid abortions for military women in cases of rape and incest and to improve sexual assault prevention programs ordered by Congress.
Boxer endorsed the nomination of the former Republican senator after receiving the letter, which also outlines Hagel’s views on Iran, Israel and Hezbollah.
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On gays in the military, Hagel said he fully supports the 2010 repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
“I know firsthand the profound sacrifice our service members and their families make,” Hagel said, referring to his own combat service in Vietnam. “If confirmed as secretary of defense, I will do everything possible to the extent permissible under law to provide equal benefits to families of all our service members.”
His options are limited as long as the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 remains in effect. That law prevents most same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits, including military health care, housing allowances and travel payments.
Boxer also asked about Hagel’s support for programs to combat sexual assault in the military and for the change in abortion policy that was ordered as part of the 2013 defense authorization bill.
Hagel said he is “committed to the full implementation of all recent policies and procedures” on sexual assault and will “ensure” the programs have full resources.
On abortion and reproductive rights, Hagel said he “will fully implement all laws protecting women service member’s reproductive rights” and additionally pledged to work with Congress and the White House “to ensure female service members continue to be afforded world class health care, including reproductive health care.”
“My goal is to ensure that the health care provided to our service members remains contemporary with the care provided to the private citizens of our nation,” Hagel said.
President Barack Obama has settled on Chuck Hagel, a Republican and former U.S. senator from Nebraska, to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, with an announcement expected Monday, Democratic officials tell POLITICO.
The choice of Hagel, who opposed his party on the Iraq war as a senator, is likely to ignite a raucous confirmation battle, since several Democratic interest groups and prominent Republicans have voiced strong opposition since Hagel’s vetting for the job was reported five weeks ago.
A Democratic aide described the White House’s logic for choosing Hagel, age 66: “Chuck Hagel is a decorated war hero who would be the first enlisted soldier and Vietnam veteran to go on to serve as Secretary of Defense. He had the courage to break with his party during the Iraq War, and would help bring the war in Afghanistan to an end while building the military we need for the future.
“He has been a champion for troops, veterans and military families through his service at the VA and USO, and his leadership on behalf of the post-9/11 G.I. Bill. The President knows him well, has travelled with him to Iraq and Afghanistan, trusts him, and believes he represents the proud tradition of a strong, bipartisan foreign policy in the United States.”
Obama, who is due back at the White House at 10:45 a.m. Sunday, is expected to announce his nomination of Hagel on Monday, as his first public appearance after the continuation of his Hawaii vacation.
President Obama is considering asking Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) to serve as his next defense secretary, part of an extensive rearrangement of his national security team that will include a permanent replacement for former CIA director David H. Petraeus.
Although Kerry is thought to covet the job of secretary of state, senior administration officials familiar with the transition planning said that nomination will almost certainly go to Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
John O. Brennan, Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, is a leading contender for the CIA job if he wants it, officials said. If Brennan goes ahead with his plan to leave government, Michael J. Morell, the agency’s acting director, is the prohibitive favorite to take over permanently. Officials cautioned that the White House discussions are still in the early stages and that no decisions have been made.
Petraeus’s resignation last week after revelations of an extramarital affair have complicated what was already an intricate puzzle to reassemble the administration’s national security and diplomatic pieces for Obama’s second term.
Rice, one of an inner circle of aides who have been with Obama since his first presidential campaign in 2007, is under particular fire over the Benghazi incident, in which U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
Some Republican lawmakers have suggested that she was part of what they suspect was an initial, election-related attempt to portray the attack as a peaceful demonstration that turned violent, rather than what the administration now acknowledges was an organized terrorist assault.
Rice’s description, days after the attack, of a protest gone wrong indicated that she either intentionally misled the country or was incompetent, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said Sunday. Rice, he said, “would have an incredibly difficult time” winning Senate confirmation as secretary of state.
But administration officials, one of whom described Kerry as a “war hero,” said his qualifications for the defense job included not only his naval service in Vietnam but also his knowledge of the budget and experience in the diplomacy that has increasingly become a part of the defense portfolio. They said the Democrats’ retention of the Senate majority, with a net gain of two seats, in last week’s election provided a cushion that allowed them to consider Kerry’s departure from the chamber.
Many had expected Petraeus to stay in place for Obama’s second term, and he had spent recent months planning transitions at other key posts at CIA headquarters. Now, four of the agency’s most critical positions — director, deputy director, head of the National Clandestine Service and chief of the Counterterrorism Center — have become question marks.
Within hours of Petraeus’s resignation Friday, his biography was excised from the CIA Web site and replaced with that of Morell.
Michael G. Vickers, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, also has been mentioned as a candidate for CIA director.
If Morell ends up permanently in the job, he will need to designate a new deputy and would be in charge of other pending personnel decisions that Petraeus had been poised to make.
H/T: Washington Post