WASHINGTON — A day after comments from 1998 surfaced in which then-Sen. Chuck Hagel opposed a Clinton nominee because he saw the man, James Hormel, as "openly aggressively gay," he has apologized for them — an apology accepted by the leading LGBT rights group.
"My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive," Hagel said in a statement received by many on Friday. "They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights. I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”
The quick response comes as Hagel is considered a top possibility to be President Obama's nominee for defense secretary in his second term.
The Human Rights Campaign, which on Thursday called the comments "unacceptable" and wanted to hear more from Hagel about his views, appears to have accepted the apology.
"Senator Hagel's apology and his statement of support for LGBT equality is appreciated and shows just how far as a country we have come when a conservative former Senator from Nebraska can have a change of heart on LGBT issues. Our community continues to add allies to our ranks and we're proud that Senator Hagel is one of them," HRC president Chad Griffin said in a statement.
"The next Defense Secretary should get off to a fast start and ensure LGBT military families have access to every possible benefit under the law. Every day these families continue to face unfair treatment and the Secretary can take meaningful action to remedy this discrimination."
OutServe-SLDN, an organization focused on LGBT servicemembers and their families, likewise, welcomed the news — although the group's leader stated a continued interest in "learning more" about Hagel's views moving forward.
"We are pleased that Senator Hagel recognized the importance of retracting his previous statement about Ambassador Hormel and affirming his commitment to Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal and LGBT military families. We look forward to learning more about his commitment to full LGBT military equality as this confirmation process unfolds." Allyson Robinson, the group's executive director, said.
UPDATE: Hormel also spoke out Friday on the issue, writing on Facebook late Friday afternoon:
Senator Hagel's apology is significant--I can't remember a time when a potential presidential nominee apologized for anything. While the timing appears self-serving, the words themselves are unequivocal--they are a clear apology. Since 1998, fourteen years have passed, and public attitudes have shifted--perhaps Senator Hagel has progressed with the times, too. His action affords new stature to the LGBT constituency, whose members still are treated as second class citizens in innumerable ways. Senator Hagel stated in his remarks that he was willing to support open military service and LGBT military families. If that is a commitment to treat LGBT service members and their families like everybody else, I would support his nomination.
The Facebook comments from the former ambassador are more accepting of Hagel's apology than earlier comments Hormel made to The Washington Post's Greg Sargent, to whom he said, "I thought this so-called apology, which I haven’t received, but which was made public, had the air of being a defensive move on his part."
Sargent wrote, "Hormel added that the apology appeared to have been given 'only in service of his attempt to get the nomination.'"