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Senate Confirmation for Defense Secretary Begins; Rough Weather Headed Northeast; Hagel Testifies Before Senate Committee

Aired January 31, 2013 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That tore them apart policy-wise on Iraq, because Hagel as an enlisted man thought that war should be the last resort; and then you have, on the opposite side, McCain saw war -- and the Vietnam War -- as a lesson that we should never give up. And that was what he wanted to do in Iraq. So really, policy-wise, that's what changed them.

Friendship-wise, I'm told by people close to them that they just drifted apart. But you know John McCain as well I do, and Chuck Hagel as well; when you have that kind of policy rift, that's something he's so passionate about, it hurts personally as well.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Of course, the fact that he was an enlisted man in Vietnam is not unimportant. It's one of the reasons that President Obama picked former sergeant Chuck Hagel from Nebraska.

And Gloria, let's talk about this more. What exactly did McCain and Hagel split over Iraq about? Specifically, they both voted for the war in Iraq.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And then Hagel thought he had made a huge blunder, that it was a mistake and it that he shouldn't have done it. And then they continued to split more and more.

And then, of course, as you know, when now President Obama was running, Chuck Hagel stopped just short of endorsing Obama, but he did travel with him to the Middle East. And, of course, his wife endorsed Obama. So that's something that's going to, you know, split up a relationship.

But one more thing, I don't think you can underestimate the importance to this president of having the enlisted man, Sergeant Hagel, be the person who heads up the Pentagon. Because what's very important to this president is that he have somebody at the Pentagon, particularly as you look to reshape the Pentagon and pare it down, whom he believes can stand up to the generals, Jake. That's really important to this president -- not be cowed by the generals and not do exactly what they want. Listen to them and tell them, you know, from the point of view of the man who was in the foxhole, I can tell you this is what we need to do and this is what we don't need to do.

And the president also believes that Hagel has a lot of credibility as somebody who's been in the foxhole, whose been wounded. TAPPER: Literally.

BORGER: Who literally understands what happens when you go to war and would therefore be more reluctant to go to war and to use force.

TAPPER: And he is, he would be the first enlisted man to be Secretary of Defense. And what's also interesting, and I want to bring in Jessica Yellin on this, our chief White House correspondent, what is interesting is the fact that Kerry and Hagel clearly mark a slight, if not more than slight, turn to the left for the Obama national security team, as even White House officials will acknowledge, from Gates and Panetta at Defense and Secretary Clinton.

As we're waiting for former Senator Chuck Hagel to testify -- he'll testify in a few minutes -- Jessica, I just wanted to get your thoughts. Do you think, knowing both Hagel and Kerry as you do, do you think the fact that they are both decorated Vietnam war veterans, both of whom who have had friends die -- I know Senator Kerry has killed men; I'm not sure about Senator Hagel, I believe he has -- but do you think that actually -- those experiences made those more cautious about using U.S. force than perhaps others?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think that it will likely -- I think that's one of the reasons, Jake, that the president has chosen these men. I mean, his aides are -- administration officials are clear about it, that they believe that what Gloria was saying, the rush to war, it could be cautious, a last resort and Chuck Hagel expresses that view, as does Kerry. And more than that, that we're in a time transition.

As the president draws down troops now from Afghanistan, as you've been reporting, that he's now looking for a way to reposition the U.S. defense posture so that we fight our new war against Al Qaida in a different way without necessarily putting boots on the ground. And that means looking to, especially, technology, intelligence, the use of drones, we've seen that more. And that's something that I think you can expect Chuck Hagel to embrace and sort of sell and support at the Department of Defense.

And so the president -- both president and Chuck Hagel have looked for Dwight Eisenhower as a role model in this, oddly enough, because Eisenhower went through something similar when Eisenhower was drawing down from the Korean War and facing off the U.S.S.R., he looked to weapons. And the president drawing out of Afghanistan and now facing off against Al Qaida, looking to drones and intelligence. I'm told that in Hagel's office at the Pentagon right now, he has a portrait up of Dwight Eisenhower that was painted by Hagel's brother, Michael Hagel.

So they see a lot of parallels between their experience and Eisenhower, and invoking a famous general doesn't hurt a Democrat and a former Republican who's accused by you and others of being a lefty, Jake.

TAPPER: If you're joining us right now, we're watching the Senate confirmation hearings for former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee to be Secretary of Defense. We're waiting for the testimony of Chuck Hagel which should be any minute.

But before Senator Hagel testifies, Gloria, I wanted to ask you, this is not just a national security team that is to the left. It actually may be -- to the left of President Obama's former team. It actually may be where President Obama's actual heart and principles are.

BORGER: I agree. I agree.

TAPPER: And maybe in the first term, he was doing things he felt like he needed to do in order to tap more to the center.

BORGER: Right. You know, if the first term was kind of a team of rivals, which it may -- it wasn't part, but, you know, say, Hillary Clinton or keeping Gates, it was because the president had sort of something to prove, first term. New, young, inexperienced. The second term, to me, and I'm with the Hagel pick, is the comfortable team. The kind of, OK, I know where I want to go. And I want the people I'm comfortable with to go there with me.

And I think Chuck Hagel has been become the president's friend. He heads -- co-heads his intelligence advisory board. They know each other well. They talk to each other. They're comfortable with each other. They agree with each other's world view. So this is about a second term president, finding his comfort zone and bringing people in who are in that same zone with him.

TAPPER: So --

BORGER: And I think that's what Hagel is.

TAPPER: So it's not a team of rivals, it's a team of bros?

BORGER: It's a team of -- it's a team of bros. It's a team of buddies. It's a team -- it's sort of like meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I'm comfortable with you, you're my -- you're going to reinforce what I believe and you're going to help me carry out what I believe. Very, very different from the first term.

TAPPER: We're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back with the Senate nomination hearings of former Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, nominated to be President Obama's Secretary of Defense.

Back in just a few seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Carol Costello. Before we get back to the Senate confirmation hearings for Chuck Hagel, we want to take a quick look at the weather because there was some very rough weather in the southeast last night and I know that weather is now headed to the northeast.

Indra Petersons is here to tell us more. Good morning.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. That's the good news. We're seeing all these exiting out of the area. And today the story is really going to continue to be all of this cold Arctic air. I mean, take a look at Chicago alone. Tuesday, record heat, 63 degrees. And now today, they're talking about temperatures only at 17 with snow flurries out there. So definitely a lot of changes.

All this cold arctic air continues to drive to Montana straight down to the southeast. Look at this temperature changes yesterday. We were warming up if you were in front of that cold front, behind it, you're dealing with that cold air. And notice as we move into through today, look how much these temperatures have dropped. We're really talking 30 degrees below where we were yesterday just here in Atlanta.

So let's talk about what that means. You add in high temperatures real close to these cool temperatures, you're going to get a lot of wind out there. So we're already talking about windchills as well. May want to take a look at Bismarck, negative 37 degrees currently. And you have to stay cold -- I know, very tough through the weekend.

(LAUGHTER)

COSTELLO: I feel guilty about complaining now.

PETERSONS: Totally.

COSTELLO: Because it's chilly here in Atlanta, but nothing like Bismarck.

PETERSONS: Hardly.

(LAUGHTER)

COSTELLO: Thanks, Indra.

Let's head back to Washington and Jake Tapper.

TAPPER: Thank you, Carol.

Well, this moment that we've been waiting for all morning. Senator Chuck Hagel, former Republican senator of Nebraska, being confirmed or his hearing about his confirmation taking place right now.

He is about to testify. Let's take a listen. Right now you see former Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia speaking on behalf of Chuck Hagel. We expect Hagel to speak any minute.

Just to recap, Hagel is perhaps the most controversial of all of President Obama's nominees, including Jack Lew for Treasury, Senator John Kerry, now the new Secretary of State. Chuck Hagel, though, he is a Republican senator. He is somebody who is not enjoying a lot of Republican support because of his positions on Iran. His position in the past on the war in Iraq, being seen as a turncoat by many Republican senators by criticizing President Bush at the time for the way the war in Iraq was conducted.

Of course, one of the strengths about him is that he is a former combat veteran sergeant. And now we're going to hear from Senator Hagel himself. So let's take a listen to the confirmation hearing of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel.

(BEGIN LIVE FEED)

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), CHAIRMAN, COMMITTEE ON ARMED SERVICES: Well, we -- we thank you both, Senator Warren, Senator Nunn, for your extraordinarily powerful introductions. And I -- I just wish every -- every member of the Senate and every American could have heard and, I hope, will heard -- hear and read about what you've said here today about Chuck Hagel.

And I also notice there's another former senator who is a member of that band of brothers who is with us today. I just noticed in the audience, Max Cleland is here.

And I want to welcome you.

Max, too, is an old, old friend of this committee and the Senate and of the nation.

So let me now call on Senator Hagel. And Senator Warner, Senator Nunn, again, thank you for your introductions and you're free to get back to your lives or to stay as you wish.

Senator Hagel.

FMR. SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE), DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: Thank you, Chairman Levin, ranking member, and often distinguished members of the committee. I am honored to come before you today as the president's nominee to be Secretary of Defense.

First, as you suggested, Mr. Chairman, let me introduce my family. My wife, Lilibet, our son, Ziller, and our daughter, Allyn, are not with us today. Our son, Ziller, claims he's taking a test. We'll confirm that later. But both our son and daughter that Lilibet and I are very proud of, and, I think like any proud father and any proud mother, you all know how I feel about that, as you have the same feelings about your children, it's the same way Lilibet and I feel about ours.

I also want to introduce my brother Tom, who served with me in Vietnam, my brother Mike, who is our number three brother and, I might add, who actually possesses any talent our family has. He has, in the Pentagon, 10 paintings as chairman of the Air Force Artists Guild over the years, and they're hanging in different locations in the Pentagon. So we have one brother of some acclaim. And one of us did make it, my brother, Mike. Mike's son is sitting behind him, Josh. He is one of three children that Mike has.

We have here also cousins, many friends, people I owe money to...

(LAUGHTER)

... and who now -- who knows who else, since I have received some publicity over the weeks.

I want to also thank my friends Sam Nunn and John Warner. I want to thank them for their support, their encouragement and their friendship over many years.

And as each of you who had the privilege of serving with those two senators, I, too, add my thanks for their -- their tremendous service to our country.

These two distinguished Americans represent what's best about American public service and responsible bipartisanship. They have embodied both in their careers, long, distinguished careers, and are models for each of us.

And, of course, to my family and friends and my fellow veterans who are here, as has been noted, Max Cleland, Jan Scruggs, good friends, veterans from all wars who are here today, who I worked with for many, many year, I am grateful to them.

Not just to those friends and supporters and fellow veterans who are here but those who are not, thank you.

A life is only as good as the family and friends you have and the people you surround yourself with.

I also want to thank my friend, Leon Panetta, for his tremendous service to our country over so many years. If I'm given the privilege of succeeding him, it will be a high honor.

President Obama, for his confidence and trust in me, I thank him. I'm humbled by the opportunity and the possibility he has given me to serve our country once again.

And I fully recognize the immense responsibilities of the Secretary of Defense. I assured the president that if I am confirmed by the United States Senate I will always do my best, I will always do my best for our nation and for the men and women and their families who are called on to make the enormous sacrifices of military service. Their safety, success and welfare will always be at the forefront of the decisions I make.

I also assured the president that I would always provide him with my most honest and informed advice. I make that same commitment to this committee and to the Congress.

If confirmed, I will reach out to the members of this committee for advice and collaboration. It will be a partnership, because the national security challenges America faces require it.

Our nation's security is the highest priority of our leaders and our government. We cannot allow the work of confronting the great threats we face today to be held hostage to partisanship on either side of the aisle or by differences between the bodies represented in Articles I and II of our Constitution. The stakes are too high.

Men and women of all political philosophies and parties and ideas die and fight for our country. As this committee knows so well, protecting our national security or committing a nation to war can never become political litmus tests. I know Secretary Panetta has put a strong emphasis on reaching out to the Congress. I, like Leon, come from the Congress, and respect and understand this institution's indispensable role in setting policy and helping govern our country.

We are all products of the forces that shape us. For me there has been nothing more important in my life or a more defining influence on my life than my family.

Whether it was helping my mother raise four boys after my father, a World War II veteran, died suddenly at age 39 on Christmas Day, or serving side by side my brother Tom in Vietnam or the wonderful miracle of my wife, Lilibet and me being blessed with two beautiful children, that is who I am.

We each bring to our responsibilities frames of reference. These frames of reference are formed by our life's experiences. They help instruct our judgments. We build out from those personal foundations by continually informing ourselves, listening and learning.

Like each of you, I have a record, a record that I'm proud of. I'm proud of my record, not because of any accomplishments I may have achieved or certainly because of an absence of mistakes, but rather because I've tried to build that record based on living my life and fulfilling my responsibilities as honestly as I knew how and with hard work.

Underpinning everything I've done in my life was the belief that we must always be striving to make our nation a better and more secure place for all our people. During the 12 years I had the privilege of serving the people of Nebraska in the United States Senate, I cast over 3,000 votes, and hundreds of committee votes. I've also given hundreds of interviews and speeches and written a book.

So as you all know, I'm on the record. I'm on the record on many issues. But no one individual vote, no one individual quote, no one individual statement defines me, my beliefs, or my record, my overall world view has never changed, that America has and must maintain the strongest military in the world, that we must lead in the international community to confront threats and challenges together, and take advantage of opportunities together, and that we must use all our tools of American power to protect our citizens and our interests.

I believe, and I always have believed, that America must engage in the world, not retreat from the world, but engage from the world. My record is consistent on these points. It's clear that we are living at a defining time. Our nation is emerging from over a decade of war. We have brought our men and women in uniform home from Iraq, and have started to bring them home from Afghanistan.

That does not mean that the threats we face and will continue to face are any less dangerous or complicated. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Recent events in Mali and Algeria remind us clearly of this reality. 21st century complexities, technologies, economies, threats are bringing the seven billion global citizens closer together than ever before. And as our planet adds another two billion people over the next 25 years, the dangers, complications and human demands will not be lessened, but rather heightened.

Despite these challenges, I believe we also have historic opportunities to help build a safer, more prosperous, more secure, more hopeful and just world than maybe at any time in the history of man, for all people. Yes, the curse of intolerance, hatred, and danger exists around the world and we must continue to be clear-eyed about this danger, and we will be. We will not hesitate to use the full force of the United States military in defense of our security, but we must also be smart and more importantly wise, wise in how we employ all of our nation's great power.

America's continued leadership and strength at home and abroad will be critically important for our country and the world. While we will not hesitate to act unilaterally when necessary. It is essential that we work closely with our allies and partners to enhance America's interests and security as well as global security.

If confirmed I will continue to build on the efforts of this administration and of former Secretaries Gates, Secretary Panetta and Secretary Clinton to strengthen our alliances and partnerships around the world. I will also look forward to working with my former Senate colleague, your colleague and our friend, John Kerry, in this pursuit.

As I told the president, I am committed to his positions on all issues of national security, specifically decisions that the Department of Defense is in the process of implementing now. This includes the defense strategic guidance the president outlined in January, 2012.

Allow me to very briefly address a few of those specific issues now. First, we have a plan to place -- a plan in place to transition out of Afghanistan, continue bringing our troops home and end the war which has been the longest war, as we all know, in America's history.

As you also know, discussions are ongoing about what the U.S. presence in Afghanistan will look like after 2014. The president has made clear, and I agree, that there should be only two functions for U.S. troops that remain in Afghanistan after 2014: Counterterrorism, particularly to target Al Qaida and its affiliates, and training and advising Afghan forces. It's time we forge a new partnership with Afghanistan, with its government, and most importantly with its people.

Second, as Secretary of Defense, I will ensure we stay vigilant and keep up the pressure on terrorist -- keep up the pressure on terrorist organizations as they try to expand their affiliates around the world in places like Yemen, Somalia, and North Africa.

At the Pentagon, that means continuing to invest in and build the tools to assist in that fight, such as special operations forces and new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technologies. And it will mean working hand in hand with our partners here at home, across the national security intelligence communities, to confront these and other threats, especially the emerging threat, the very dangerous and real threat of cyber-warfare.

Third, as I have made clear, I am fully committed to the president's goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I have been on record on that issue -- as I've said in the past many times, all options must be on the table to achieve that goal. My policy has always been the same as the president's, one of prevention, not of containment. And the president has made clear that is the policy of our government.

As Secretary of Defense, I will make sure the department is prepared for any contingency. That's my job. That's my responsibility. I will ensure our friend and ally Israel maintains its qualitative military edge in the region and will continue to support systems like Iron Dome, which is today saving Israeli lives from terrorist rocket attacks. That support I -- I have always made clear and been on the record for.

Fourth, while we pursue the reductions in our deployed stockpiles and launchers, consistent with the New START treaty, I am committed to maintaining a modern, strong, safe, ready and effective nuclear arsenal. America's nuclear deterrent over the last 35 years has played a central role in ensuring global security and the avoidance of World War III. I have been committed to that. My record is clear on that. I am committed to modernizing our nuclear arsenal.

As we emerge from this decade of war, we must also broaden our nation's focus overseas as we look at future threats and challenges. As this committee knows, that's why DOD is rebalancing its resources toward the Asia-Pacific region. We are in the process of modernizing our defense posture across the entire region to defend and deepen our partnerships with traditional allies, especially Japan, South Korea and Australia; to continue to defer and defend against provocations from states like North Korea, as well as non-state actors; and to expand our networks of security cooperation throughout the region to combat terrorism, counter-proliferation, provide disaster relief, fight piracy and ensure maritime security.

I will continue this rebalancing even as we continue to work closely -- closely with our long-time allies of NATO and our friends, and with allies and partners and friends in other regions of the world. At the same time, we will continue to focus on challenges in the Middle East and North Africa, where we have clear national interests. Rather, it is a recognition that the United States has been and always will be a Pacific power. And the Asia-Pacific area is increasingly vital to America's security and economic interests. That's why we must become even more engaged in the region over the coming years.

Doing all this and much more will require smart and strategic budget decisions. I have made it clear I share Leon Panetta's and our service chiefs' serious concerns about the impact sequestration would have on our armed forces. And as someone who has run businesses, I know that the uncertainty and turbulence of the current budget climate makes it much more difficult to manage the Pentagon's resources and our national security.

If confirmed, I'm committed to effectively and efficiently using every single taxpayer's dollar the right way, to maintain the strongest military in the world, and to working with Congress to ensure the department has the resources it needs and that the disposition of those resources is accountable.

Even as we deal with difficult budget decisions, I will never break America's commitment to our troops, our veterans and our military families.

We will continue to invest in the well being of our all-volunteer force and working with the V.A. and other institutions, we will make sure our troops and their families get the health care, job opportunities, and education they have earned and deserve, just as I did when I co-authored the post-9/11 G.I. Bill with Senators Jim Webb, Frank Lautenberg and John Warner.