Who is Chuck Hagel and Why Is He Being Nominated as Defense Secretary?

National Journal

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel has a reputation for going rogue.

The Republican whom President Obama is expected to nominate as secretary of Defense on Monday vocally defied his party -- and George W. Bush -- during the lead up to the Iraq war. In 2002, he questioned the evidence that the Iraqis had access to weapons of mass destruction.

Combine that with some disparaging comments about gays in the late 90s (which Hagel recently apologized for), and questions about his support for Israel, and Hagel may face a confirmation battle on many fronts.

Confirmation distractions aside, Hagel's list of qualifications is long. Here are the highlight of his biography (compiled directly from the Almanac of American Politics).

  • Hagel, first elected in 1996 to the Senate, grew up in the Sand Hills and small towns of Nebraska; his father died when he was 16, and Hagel started supporting his family. He dropped out of college, worked as a radio DJ, then with his younger brother Tom volunteered for service in Vietnam. 
  • After the war, he worked his way through the University of Nebraska in Omaha, then got a job in the office of Rep. John McCollister, R-Neb. He rose to administrative assistant; after McCollister lost a Senate race in 1976, Hagel became a lobbyist for Firestone. He later got the Number 2 position in the Reagan Veterans' Affairs Administration, but resigned after only one year.
  • Hagel then founded Vanguard Cellular Systems, which became the second largest cell phone company in the nation.
  • In 1995, when Sen. Jim Exon, R-Neb., announced his retirement, Hagel started running for the Senate, very much the underdog. His platform was solidly conservative. He won 56 percent of the vote.
  •  In the Senate, Hagel sought a seat on Foreign Relations and got it — because no other freshman Republican wanted it. Hagel had a mostly conservative voting record in the Senate. He opposed abortion, favored school prayer, and had taken stands in favor of school vouchers.
  •  Hagel called on his military experience in 1997 to support the treaty against land mines; he spoke for the chemical weapons treaty ratified by the Senate in 1997 over the objections of Foreign Relations Chairman Jesse Helms; he voted against the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in October 1999 but joined Democrats and the administration in trying to prevent the vote when it became clear the treaty would be rejected. He supported the bombing of Serbia in spring 1999, but decried the Clinton policy of ruling out the use of ground troops.
  • In February 2002 he accused the Bush administration of a "cavalier approach" to the rest of the world and said that the axis-of-evil part of George W. Bush's first State of the Union speech was "name calling." He voted for the Iraq war resolution, but insisted, "Actions in Iraq must come in the context of an American-led, multilateral approach to disarmament, not as the first case for a new American doctrine involving the preemptive use of force." He wrote that U.S. policy should not be ruled by a sense of "divine mission," but should inspire allies to work with us on "making a better world.
  • He supported John McCain for president in the primaries leading up to the 2000 election.
  • On immigration, in January 2004 he sponsored an immigration bill with then-Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle to let illegal immigrants achieve "earned legalization" on demonstrating four years of work and mastery of the English language; willing workers would be matched with willing employers. 
  • In his 2002 reelection to the Senate, he won 83-15 percent, the most lopsided victory ever in a Nebraska Senate race.
  • He was mentioned as a possible 2008 presidential candidate, but decided not to run and retired from the Senate.
  • Since 2008, he has taught at Georgetown University, and sits on the boards of several companies and nonprofits.