Barney Frank ‘strongly opposes’ nomination of Hagel for Defense chief

Outgoing Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said he is "strongly opposed" to former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) becoming the next Defense secretary due to remarks that Hagel made about an openly gay ambassadorial nominee in 1998.

Hagel apologized earlier this month for calling former U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg James Hormel “aggressively gay” in a 1998 interview where he explained his opposition to Hormel’s confirmation.

But Frank said Monday that the apology did not excuse Hagel’s comments.

“Then-Senator Hagel's aggressively bigoted opposition to President Clinton's naming the first openly gay Ambassador in U.S. history was not, as Sen. Hagel now claims, an aberration,” Frank said in a statement.

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“I cannot think of any other minority group in the U.S. today where such a negative statement and action made in 1998 would not be an obstacle to a major Presidential appointment,” said Frank, who was the first openly gay member of Congress.

Frank’s stand against Hagel’s nomination is the latest obstacle for the Obama administration — which has put Hagel at the top of its short list of candidates to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta — in its decision whether to nominate Hagel.

The Human Rights Campaign issued a statement blasting Hagel for his 1998 comments earlier this month, and the Log Cabin Republicans took out an ad in The New York Times to criticize the former Nebraska senator.

While Frank is leaving Congress at the end of the year, he is an influential leader among gay rights advocates.

Hagel’s potential nomination has also drawn attacks from pro-Israel groups over comments he made about the “Jewish lobby” and for supporting diplomatic engagement with Hamas and Iran.

Obama defended Hagel Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” saying that he did not see anything that would disqualify Hagel as a possible nominee.

"I've served with Chuck Hagel. I know him. He is a patriot," Obama said. "He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate, somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam. And is somebody who's currently serving on my intelligence advisory board and doing an outstanding job."

In Hagel’s apology, he said his past remarks did not reflect his views, and that he was “fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”

Frank said in his statement “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."

“And to those of us who admire and respect Mr. Hormel, Sen. Hagel's description of him as aggressive can only mean that the Senator strongly objected to Hormel's reasoned, civil advocacy for LGBT people,” Frank said.

Hormel, who became ambassador after a recess appointment, said of Hagel’s apology that if it was a “commitment to treat LGBT service members and their families like everybody else, I would support his nomination.”

— Peter Schroeder contributed to this report.