Hagel's 1998 gay slur revisited

US Senator Chuck Hagel waits for Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso at the premier's official residence on October 16, 2008 in Tokyo, Japan.
Junko Kimura/Getty Images

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel, whose nomination as Defense Secretary was announced on Monday by President Obama, is once again drawing scrutiny as a result of anti-gay comments he made about an ambassadorial nominee more than a decade ago.

In 1998, Hagel assailed James Hormel, who was nominated by then-President Bill Clinton as the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg, as "openly, aggressively gay" in an interview with the Omaha World-Herald, questioning whether Hormel's sexuality would prevent him from executing his duties effectively. Hormel was eventually confirmed, becoming the first openly gay U.S. ambassador in history.

The comments drew fire from LGBT-advocacy groups when Hagel's name was floated for the Pentagon, forcing Hagel to apologize, explain his evolution on LGBT equality, and reiterate his commitment to "open service" for LGBT military personnel.

Hormel accepted Hagel's apology, saying, "While the timing appears self-serving, the words themselves are unequivocal - they are a clear apology."

But in the same Herald story, Hagel explained that Hormel had "very aggressively told the world of his gayness" and objected to an event that Hormel attended at which men in drag played nuns as "anti-Catholic."

"I do think you go beyond common sense there, and reason and a certain amount of decorum," Hagel said of the event.

"If you send an ambassador abroad with a cloud of controversy hanging over him," he said, "then I think it's unfair to our country, it's unfair to the host country, and it's unfair to the ambassador because the effectiveness of that individual is going to be seriously curtailed."

"That's just a fact of life," Hagel said, "And I believe Hormel's situation is one of those."

The newly-publicized comments will likely provide more grist for the mill as Hagel's confirmation battle heats up, and at least one Democrat is not yet convinced that Hagel's stated evolution on LGBT rights is sincere.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., who took office last week as America's first openly gay senator, told MSNBC, "I do want to speak with him, particularly about his comments 14 years ago, to see if his apology is sincere and sufficient."