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Chuck Hagel's Positions on Israel, Cuba Don't Sit Well With Some in Florida Delegation

January 11, 2013 - 6:00pm

Floridas congressional delegation divided along party lines last week, after President Barack Obama nominated former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of Defense -- andit looks like the president could be in for at least a modest fight to get his man confirmed.

Though Republican Hagel represented red-state Nebraska in the Senate, he has held a number of foreign policy positions -- specifically stances on Israel, the Middle East and Cuba -- clearly in contrast with the positions of many conservatives, particularly among the Florida delegation.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, however, who served with Hagel in the Senate, met with leaders from the region and insists Hagel will be confirmed.

Florida's senior senator is expected to play a major role in the Hagel confirmation. He serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee and was in the Middle East last week, where he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Calling Hagel a personal friend and a dedicated public servant and patriot, Nelson said the former senators background as a decorated infantryman in the Vietnam War helps make him an ideal selection to head the Defense Department.

Nelson said Israel -- as our closest Mideast friend -- should have the full assistance of the U.S. to remain secure.

The Florida senator was responding to Senate colleague Rand Paul, R-Ky., who called for cuts to foreign aid for Israel this week. Pauls father, former Congressman Ron Paul, was hindered during his presidential bids by accusations of anti-Semitic comments published in his newsletter. Rand Paul is a possible presidential candidate in 2016.

While Nelson shows signs of a willingness to go to the mat for Hagel, the junior senator from Florida is less enthusiastic. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has expressed concerns about Hagels opposition to the embargo with Cuba and his policies in the Middle East. However, Rubios team has said the boss will wait until the confirmation process before deciding on how he will vote on the nomination.

With Rubio considered a leading possible presidential candidate in 2016, his thoughts on Hagel are being covered by national outlets.

Most members of the Florida delegation in the U.S. House have yet to make their opinions clear or elaborate on the Hagel nomination, but one prominent congresswoman from the Sunshine State attacked the former senator last week.

While she no longer chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen remains at the helm of the Middle East and North America Subcommittee. In a very strongly worded statement released last week, Ros-Lehtinen left no room for doubt that she opposes the Hagel nomination.

I am deeply disappointed in President Obamas nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska as our nations next secretary of Defense, Ros-Lehtinen said. Senator Hagels positions regarding foreign policy issues, particularly concerning Iran, Cuba and Israel, run contrary to U.S. national interests.

"During his time in Congress, Senator Hagel supported legislation that would have provided a lifeline to the decrepit Castro regime that for the last half a century has exploited the Cuban people and posed a severe security threat to the U.S., Ros-Lehtinen continued. He opposed sanctions against Iran, which has brazenly pursued the development of a nuclear weapon in open defiance of the international community as well as called for the destruction of one of our vital allies, Israel.

"His outspoken criticism of our ally, the democratic state of Israel, will not further the fragile peace process in the region and may embolden Israels enemies into believing that the U.S. will not stand with Israel. It must be made clear that Israel will always be our greatest ally in the struggle for peace in the Middle East and vital partner in the defense of democracy and liberty.

Conservatives are starting to mobilize against the Hagel nomination. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination last year and could be back to run again in 2016, is leading a national campaign against any Hagel appointment.

Tallahassee freelance political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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