FLASHBACK: GOP Senators Praised Chuck Hagel’s Statesmanship, Foreign Policy Expertise

As Republicans plan their opposition strategy on Chuck Hagel’s anticipated nomination as the next secretary of defense, Democrats are digging up and circulating examples of top GOP senators saying nice things about their former colleague in the past.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in particular was a vocal advocate for Hagel’s character — even after his dissent on U.S. foreign policy regarding Iraq and Israel were well-known.

In 2006, while he was preparing to run for president, McCain was asked whether he’d consider Hagel for a cabinet post. “I’d be honored to have Chuck with me in any capacity,” he said. “He’d make a great secretary of state.”

Two years later, McCain reaffirmed that position after securing the Republican nomination, telling The Associated Press that Hagel is a “respected leader in America” who “served his country admirably, with honor and distinction.”At a 2007 fundraiser, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called Hagel “one of the premier foreign policy voices (and) one of the giants in the United States Senate,” according to the Nebraska-based Lincoln Journal Star.

The following year, McConnell, bidding farewell to his retiring colleague, praised Hagel as a “great statesm[a]n” and “leading voice in foreign affairs.”

“In two terms in the Senate, Chuck has earned the respect of his colleagues and risen to national prominence as a clear voice on foreign policy and national security,” McConnell said. “Chuck’s stature as a leading voice in foreign affairs has earned him a reputation, in just 12 years in the Senate, as one of Nebraska’s great statesmen. This is a tribute to his intelligence, hard work, and devotion to a country that he has served his entire adult life.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) bid Hagel farewell by praising Hagel’s “independent background” and “sense of independence.” Alexander said Hagel — along with then-Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) — “understands the world better than almost anyone.”

The former Nebraska senator received similar parting accolades from Republican Sens. Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Bob Corker (TN), who will vote on his confirmation.

Kindness toward a departing colleague may simply be a matter of courtesy, but Democrats will be eager to remind those Republicans of their glowing remarks.

Democrats also note that Republicans emphasized their respect for Hagel even as they strongly disagreed with him on foreign policy toward Iraq, Israel and Iran.

Back in 2006, commenting on the unfolding battle between Israel and Hezbollah, McCain suggested Hagel’s proposed solution was “not workable” but qualified his disagreement.

“Well, look, there’s no man I admire and respect more in the world than Chuck Hagel,” he said. “We have deep bonds of friendship.”

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