William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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THE HAGEL WATCH – AT 11:23 A.M. ET:  The fiscal cliff has gotten most of the press's attention in the last few days, but other stuff goes on.  Hillary Clinton is still in the hospital with a blood clot, and we are expecting another medical bulletin tomorrow.  There is more rumor than there is information.

And the post of secretary of defense remains unfilled.  Mystery builds.   There'd been stories that Chuck Hagel's ultra-controversial nomination would be announced yesterday, but it didn't happen.  What did happen was a statement by Barney Frank, the outgoing Dem congressman from Massachusetts.  What makes this very significant is that Frank is regarded as the leader of the gay rights movement in Congress.  His signal would send a powerful message to the White House.  From The Hill:

Outgoing Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said he is "strongly opposed" to former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) becoming the next Defense secretary due to remarks that Hagel made about an openly gay ambassadorial nominee in 1998.

Hagel apologized earlier this month for calling former U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg James Hormel “aggressively gay” in a 1998 interview where he explained his opposition to Hormel’s confirmation.

But Frank said Monday that the apology did not excuse Hagel’s comments.

“Then-Senator Hagel's aggressively bigoted opposition to President Clinton's naming the first openly gay Ambassador in U.S. history was not, as Sen. Hagel now claims, an aberration,” Frank said in a statement.

“I cannot think of any other minority group in the U.S. today where such a negative statement and action made in 1998 would not be an obstacle to a major Presidential appointment,” said Frank, who was the first openly gay member of Congress.

Frank’s stand against Hagel’s nomination is the latest obstacle for the Obama administration — which has put Hagel at the top of its short list of candidates to succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta — in its decision whether to nominate Hagel.

The Human Rights Campaign issued a statement blasting Hagel for his 1998 comments earlier this month, and the Log Cabin Republicans took out an ad in The New York Times to criticize the former Nebraska senator.

While Frank is leaving Congress at the end of the year, he is an influential leader among gay rights advocates.

COMMENT:  Hagel reminds me of a line Winston Churchill used to describe one of his political opponents – a bull, Churchill said, "who brings his own China shop with him."   He has managed to antagonize a good number of influential people across the political spectrum.  Lindsey Graham said over the weekend that Hagel, who is theoretically a Republican, would get few Republican votes.  And Democrats are not rushing to endorse him.

But he is the darling of the old Jimmy Carter crowd, joined by some of the dead-enders from the Bush 41 administration.  I'm afraid our president is a card-carrying member of that cult.  It's hard for me to believe, though, that Obama would actually nominate a man who has run into the kind of buzz saw that Hagel is experiencing, especially after the message Barney Frank delivered so bluntly.  Our president, however, has surprised us, negatively, before.  Amateurs always do.

January 1, 2013