Hagel Says Republican Party Must Change

Senate Foreign Relations Committee member, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. takes part in a hearing on Iraq before the committee
Senate Foreign Relations Committee member, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. takes part in a hearing on Iraq before the committee, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2007 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
AP Photo/Dennis Cook

In recent weeks, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., has seemed to go against the Republican party and has even suggested that he might consider running for president as an independent. Appearing on Face the Nation he said if he runs, he will do so as a Republican but hopes his party can shift back to the center.

Hagel has been one of the most outspoken Republican critics of President George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq war, and he continues to try to force his party to adopt a new strategy — not just with the war but in it's overall philosophy.

On Face the Nation he criticized the way his party has changed over the years.

"For example, the Republican Party, interestingly enough as the new chairman of the Republican Party said in his acceptance speech two days ago, needs to get back to what it once stood for," Hagel, a Vietnam veteran, continued. "The party that I first voted for on top of a tank in Mekong Delta 1968 is not the party I see today."

Hagel said that right now he's "not a candidate for any office," but he will make a decision about the 2008 race soon. Earlier, Hagel said on C-SPAN that he would consider running for president as an independent, but he told Bob Schieffer that he will stay a Republican. What it means to be a Republican, he said, is what should change.

"I think we are living through one of the great historical, political reorientations of our time," he said. "I think we are seeing defined right now through the process — and it will continue right up to November of next year — a new center of gravity for both parties based on beliefs, philosophies."

If he runs, Hagel said his candidacy would not be solely based on the Iraq war. He will try to return his party to a platform based on fiscal responsibility, trade and smaller government.

But, Hagel, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is the co-sponsor of a high-profile resolution opposing the expansion of the war in Iraq.

The resolution, which is also sponsored by Senator Olympia Snow, R-Maine, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., will "put congress on record" and encourage debate, Hagel said.

"I want every member of the United States Senate to have to take a position on this," Hagel said. "We have kids dying every day."

The president's plan to send a "surge" of American troops into Iraq to quell sectarian violence is a mistake, Hagel said.

"I think, for whatever reason, the advice he got was not very solid," he said. "It is wrong to put American troops in the middle of a sectarian civil war."

Even though Vice President Dick Cheney says talk of resolutions undercuts the troops, Hagel said he would have welcomed similar congressional action when he was fighting in Vietnam.

"We're Article 1 of the Constitution," he said. "We are a co-equal branch of government. Are we not to participate? Are we not to say anything? Are we not to register our sense of where we're going in this country on foreign policy? Bottom line is this. Our young men and women and their families, these young men and women who are asked to fight and die deserve a policy worthy of those sacrifices."