Sen. Inhofe says he'll oppose Hagel
Inhofe says he has concerns over across-the-board budget cuts
Sen. Jim Inhofe, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has pledged to oppose President Barack Obama's nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel for secretary of the Defense Department after a sit-down with Hagel on Tuesday.
"We had a very cordial meeting today in which we discussed his nomination," the Republican senator from Oklahoma said in a statement. "Unfortunately, as I told him during our meeting today, we are simply too philosophically opposed on the issues for me to support his nomination."
Inhofe said one of his biggest concerns with Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, involved the so-called sequester, a large sum of automatic, across-the-board budget cuts that would have a major impact on the military over the next decade. Originally set to kick in at the beginning of the year, the sequester was postponed by two months as part of the "fiscal cliff" bill passed by Congress on January 1. Lawmakers will face an early-March deadline to once again deal with the spending cuts.
While Inhofe pointed to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's comments saying the cuts could be "devastating," the senator said "Hagel's comments have not demonstrated that same level of concern about the pending defense cuts."
Inhofe also took issue with Hagel's support of nuclear disarmament and his involvement with Global Zero, a movement that calls for a "world without nuclear weapons."
Furthermore, Inhofe cast doubt on Hagel's positions regarding the Middle East - Iran and Israel, in particular. Hagel has faced strong criticism in recent weeks for opposing unilateral sanctions against Iran. Inhofe also called him out for not signing "a letter affirming U.S. solidarity with Israel" in 2000 and for urging "the Bush administration to support Iranian membership in the World Trade Organization."
"Given the current tension in the Middle East that is largely being instigated by the Iranian regime, I am concerned with Sen. Hagel's views," Inhofe said.
However, Inhofe qualified, while they are "opposed on issues, (they) are still friends."
"This is one of those rare times when policy differences don't stand in the way of personal relationships," he added.
In an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star newspaper in Nebraska on January 7, Hagel answered his critics, saying his record will show "unequivocal, total support for Israel."
The former senator said his views and positions have been "completely distorted" and he didn't "sign on to certain resolutions and letters because they were counterproductive and didn't solve a problem."
Hagel also explained why he opposed unilateral sanctions against Iran. "I have not supported unilateral sanctions because when it is us alone, they don't work and they just isolate the United States."
While Inhofe says he won't support Hagel's nomination, the former senator did get a big boost earlier Tuesday when two key Jewish senators gave Hagel their backing. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Barbara Boxer of California--both Democrats--said their discussions with the former senator gave them the assurance they needed to support him.