Former Senate colleagues and decorated Vietnam War veterans Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and John McCain, R-Ariz., squared off Thursday over Hagel’s past statements on the Iraq War, as Hagel fielded questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee in a confirmation hearing to become the next secretary of defense.
McCain charged at Hagel’s opposition to the 2007 troop surge in Iraq, which McCain strongly supported and points to as a major turning point in the war. He pressed the former Nebraska senator, “Were you right? Were you correct in your assessment?” Hagel rebutted, “I would defer to the judgment of history to sort that out.”
The two proceeded to talk over each other, with McCain demanding a yes or no answer and Hagel trying to elaborate, protesting that the question was too complicated for a yes or no response. McCain eventually declared, “then let the record show that you refused to answer that question.”
McCain, a longtime acquaintance of Hagel’s, pledged to avoid publicly declaring his support or opposition to the president’s nominee to succeed Leon Panetta until Thursday’s hearing concluded, though he released a statement on the day Hagel was nominated, saying he had “serious concerns about positions Sen. Hagel has taken on a range of critical national security issues in recent years.” McCain insinuated during the heated exchange that his dissatisfaction with Hagel’s responses could motivate him to vote “no” on during the confirmation proceedings.