By Jeremy Herb
Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) walked back his opposition to President Obama’s pick for Defense secretary on Monday.
Frank, who said last week before leaving Congress that he was “strongly opposed” to former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) over past comments calling a diplomatic nominee “aggressively gay,” dialed down his position in an interview with the Boston Globe on Monday.
Frank has also openly lobbied to temporarily replace Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the Senate, following Kerry's nomination to be Obama's next secretary of State.
If Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) appointed Frank to replace Kerry until a special election was held, Frank could have a vote on Hagel’s confirmation.
That could happen if Kerry’s confirmation, where there are few obstacles, is completed before Hagel’s.
Frank’s comments Monday reflect the criticism against Hagel that’s come on two different fronts: from pro-Israel groups and gay-rights advocates.
Frank and others have criticized Hagel for calling former U.S. Ambassador James Hormel “openly, aggressively gay” when Hagel opposed his confirmation in 1998.
Hagel apologized for the remark last month and said he was supportive of open service for gay service members.
But Frank said in a statement before leaving office that Hagel’s apology did not change his record. “He voted consistently against fairness for LGBT people, and there does not seem to be any evidence prior to his effort to become secretary of Defense of any apology or retraction of his attack on James Hormel,” Frank said.
Frank, who was the first openly gay congressman and remains a leading gay-rights voice, said that he still wished that Obama had chosen another candidate.
“I was hoping the president wouldn’t nominate him,” Frank said.
But he argued that the policies Hagel stands for on the military and the war in Afghanistan would suffer setbacks if his confirmation failed.
Pro-Israel groups and some Republicans have said they are opposed to Hagel for saying the “Jewish lobby” intimidates people in Washington, and for support of diplomatic engagement with Iran and Hamas.
“As much as I regret what Hagel said, and resent what he said, the question now is going to be Afghanistan and scaling back the military,” Frank said. “In terms of the policy stuff, if he would be rejected [by the Senate], it would be a setback for those things.”