WASHINGTON -- GOP senators are now vowing a tough fight against Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel, but in 2008 several top Republicans offered strong praise of their Senate colleague after the Nebraska Republican decided not to run for a third term.
In a series of tributes published by the Government Printing Office, Republicans lionized their departing colleague.
"In two terms in the Senate, Chuck has earned the respect of his colleagues and risen to national prominence as a clear voice on foreign policy and national security," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Oct. 2, 2008.
This past Sunday, McConnell described Hagel more ambiguously as "outspoken" on national security issues and equivocated about his nomination. "I'm going to take a look at all the things that Chuck has said over the years and review that and in terms of his qualifications to lead our nation's military," McConnell said on ABC's "This Week."
While kind parting words are often expected when senators leave the chamber, in the four years since Republicans have apparently come to a completely different evaluation of Hagel. He was uniformly praised in 2008, while as an Obama nominee he has been met by Republicans with skepticism and, in some cases, outright opposition.
"This is an in-your-face nomination by the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) Sunday on CNN, while declining to say whether he would filibuster the nomination or whether he thought he had the votes to block Hagel. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) has announced his opposition to Hagel, while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has said that he very likely will not be supporting the nominee.
The opposition is unusual for a defense secretary nominee. Among the last three secretaries, two -- Leon Panetta and Donald Rumsfeld -- received no votes in opposition, while Robert Gates sailed through in a 95-2 vote.
In 2008, then-Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) was fulsome in his praise of Hagel. "He made a tremendous contribution to the world of the Senate because he had first-hand knowledge of the dynamism and transformational nature of the global economy all around us," Coleman said.
"Chuck Hagel's whole life expresses his conviction that the world can and should be a better place, and it will not get that way by itself. He is fully engaged in a lifelong effort to make the world a better place, and he applies every waking hour to the quest," said Coleman.
"When you look at the list of organizations he supports with this ideas and his leadership, it looks like the combined resume of five people. He works with veterans organizations, antipoverty organizations, international cooperation organizations, and the list goes on and on. He has been honored by dozens of organizations for excellence in public service," Coleman said four years ago.
But Coleman narrowly lost his own seat to Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) in 2008. Today he is a board member for the Republican Jewish Coalition, which strongly opposes Hagel's nomination. The group bills itself as the "first major Jewish organization" to go on the record against Hagel.
Though Coleman will not have a chance to vote on his former colleague's nomination, other current senators are on the record praising Hagel. "He made a point of visiting other countries and meeting with foreign leaders to increase his expertise on foreign policy. Working closely with Senator [Dick] Lugar and Senator [Joe] Biden, he has been a voice on the committee that is sought after for his perspective," said Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) on Nov. 20, 2008.
"Chuck Hagel, who exercises this tremendous independence, somebody with whom I have really enjoyed serving on [the] Foreign Relations [Committee]," said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on Oct. 1, 2008.
"Along with Senator Lugar on this side of the aisle, he understands the world better than almost anyone, and he works hard at it. He has been independent in his views, willing to criticize those he thought were wrong, including those in his own party. He has recently written an excellent book about the future of our party," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) on Sept. 24, 2008.
"We will miss Senator Hagel," Alexander continued.
Now Republicans have the chance to bring him back.