Former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin Powell defended Chuck Hagel on Sunday over anti-gay remarks the former senator made in 1998, saying the defense secretary nominee would ensure “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal is fully implemented upon confirmation.
During an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Powell — who served as Secretary of State under former President George W. Bush — advocated for Hagel as defense secretary based on the Nebraska Republican’s public service and contribution to the Vietnam War while mitigating concerns expressed over the nominee by Jewish groups and others.
Host David Gregory brought up the 1998 remarks to the Omaha World-Herald in which Hagel called then-ambassadorial nominee James Hormel “aggressively gay” and said that would detract from his effectiveness overseas. Gregory also noted Hagel recently apologized for those comments in a statement that expressed a commitment to LGBT military families.
Powell at first interrupted Gregory, saying “the apology has been accepted by the ambassador.” While Hormel accepted the apology in a Facebook posting and expressed a forgiving tone in a subsequent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Hormel initially questioned the sincerity of the Hagel’s mea culpa — which came 14 years after the fact — in interviews with the Washington Post and the Washington Blade.
But Gregory continued to question Powell about whether Hagel would continue the implementation of “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell” repeal at a time when gay troops lack certain partner benefits. LGBT advocates have been pressing for a secretarial directive to grant benefits to gay troops, such as joint duty assignments, issuance of military IDs, use of the commissary and family housing.
Powell at first seemed unaware about any outstanding issues in the wake of repeal of the military’s gay ban, saying “‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ isn’t there any more. It doesn’t have to reverse. It’s gone.”
But Powell added Hagel will fully implement the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in a way that is consistent with the administration’s position — and will make that position known during his upcoming confirmation hearings before the Senate — while saying the former senator would be “responsible” upon confirmation for ensuring gay service members have a “proper environment” to perform their duties.
“I think that what Sen. Hagel will do — as he has said, and as he will certainly testify at the confirmation hearing — is that he will fully implement ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ [repeal,]” Powell said. “There are still issues that have to be resolved, but, I think, he will go after these issues in a way that will be very consistent with the administration’s position, with the law and with the aspirations of our gay and lesbian men and women in the military. He is now responsible for them, he is now responsible for them having a proper environment in which to do their jobs. And that will include making sure that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and the elimination of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is fully implemented.”
Zeke Stokes, a spokesperson for the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN, expressed satisfaction with Powell’s remarks on “Meet the Press” in an email to the Blade.
“Gen. Powell’s comments are of course encouraging and indeed in line with what we would expect should Sen. Hagel be confirmed,” Stokes said.
Powell’s remarks on LGBT issues have drawn considerable notice because of his status as a moderate Republican and military leader. A proponent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when the law was first proposed in 1993, Powell subsequently reversed that position and endorsed the process set up by the Pentagon leading to its repeal. Powell has also come out in favor of marriage rights for same-sex couples.