Landrieu to support Hagel for defense post; Vitter says no

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu met with defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel on Thursday, and she then joined most Senate Democrats in supporting him.

The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee postponed a vote on Hagel, a Nebraska Republican who retired from the Senate in 2009, because Republicans had requested additional background information. A committee vote is still expected later this month.

President Barack Obama is counting on U.S. Senate Democrats to come together with unified support for Hagel to ensure the needed 60 votes for his confirmation.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., was among the first to oppose Hagel.

Landrieu, D-La., said she was impressed that Hagel was familiar with Louisiana’s military installations and that he expressed support for strengthening them. Landrieu specifically mentioned Barksdale Air Force Base and its Global Strike Command, the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk and Federal City, home of the Marine Corps Reserves.

“We also discussed our critical alliance with Israel and the need to move beyond just military collaboration to collaboration on energy production, research and security,” Landrieu said in a prepared statement. “I have been working to strengthen ties between world-renowned universities in Israel and Louisiana to build a research platform for traditional and renewable energy. Sharing our countries’ expertise in research and production and working together on future discoveries is mutually beneficial for the U.S. and Israel and our energy security.

“I am also confident that Mr. Hagel is committed to the security of Israel and appreciates the grave danger that Iran poses to Israel, regional stability and the United States,” she added.

Vitter is part of the chorus of conservatives who argue that Hagel has not been supportive enough of Israel.

Vitter, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, last week accused Hagel of “dramatic flip-flops” from his time as a senator to what he is saying now about supporting Israel.

Vitter cited past comments from Hagel, such as criticizing the “sickening slaughter” of Lebanese people in 2006 when Israel responded to attacks from Hezbollah, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization.

Hagel responded that he regretted his word choice and that he also blamed Hezbollah.

“The sickening slaughter on both sides must end and it must end now,” Hagel said in 2006. “President Bush must call for an immediate cease-fire. This madness must stop.”

He also said, “Our relationship with Israel is special and historic. But it need not and cannot be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships. That is an irresponsible and dangerous false choice.”

The 2006 conflict killed roughly 1,000 Lebanese people and about 165 Israelis. Both Israel and Hezbollah were accused of war crimes for allegedly targeting civilians.

Vitter also noted last week that Hagel previously stated that Iran had a “legitimately elected government” and that a nuclear Iran “might be tolerable.”

Hagel responded that he should have said “recognized” and not “legitimate.”

“I’ve always said that Iran must not get weapons of mass destruction,” Hagel said, also noting, “It is a dangerous country that is a threat to Israel, the U.S. and the world.”

Other groups such ase the Tea Party of Louisiana have called on Landrieu and Vitter to oppose Hagel under the argument that his leadership would result in a weakened U.S. military.