Barney Frank Walks Back on Hagel

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Republicans straining to present opposition to Chuck Hagel as bipartisan had a small assist from retired Massachusetts lawmaker Barney Frank last week, who because of Hagel’s 1998 criticism of Ambassador James Hormel—he called him “openly, aggressively gay”—said he “strongly opposed” his nomination to head the Defense Department. As of today, however, conservatives will no longer be able to cry crocodile tears on gay rights and turn to Frank as an example of anti-Hagel criticism from “both sides.” Here’s the Huffington Post :

Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is softening his opposition to Chuck Hagel’s likely nomination as Defense Secretary, saying he is willing to overlook the former Republican senator’s past anti-gay remarks and positions.

“As much as I regret what Hagel said, and resent what he said, the question now is going to be Afghanistan and scaling back the military,” Frank told the Boston Globe in an interview. ”In terms of the policy stuff, if he would be rejected [by the Senate], it would be a setback for those things."

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. With few exceptions, presidents receive wide latitude on their appointments to executive branch positions, and there was never any real doubt that Hagel—a Republican—would be supported by Senate Democrats. The real question is whether Republicans will reject a former colleague in order to continue their categorical opposition to President Obama’s agenda. So far, the answer seems to be “yes.” Here’s South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham: “This is a controversial pick…He is an antagonistic figure when it comes to the state of Israel. It’s a signal you’re sending to Iran at the worst possible time and to our allies.”

It’s a sign of how far to the right the GOP has moved that Hagel—a moderate Republican from Nebraska—has attracted the opposition of his former colleagues in the Senate, all because he decided to sign-up and work with the president.