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McCain pounds Chuck Hagel in Senate confirmation hearing

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He also stressed that his decisions as secretary of Defense, should he be confirmed, would be driven by how they affect troops and their families.

“The people in Washington make the policy,” Hagel wrote in his memoir, “but it’s the little guys who come back in the body bags.” 

Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, pointed to this remark in his opening statement. 

Yet Senator Levin also sought to distance himself a bit from some of Hagel’s positions, in particular his willingness to conduct “direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks” with Iran on some issues that, Levin said, “I believe most of us would view as nonnegotiable.”

Throughout the proceedings, Hagel offered a handful of clarifications about his more controversial positions.

He emphasized, for starters, his support for Israel, after being widely criticized – and apologizing – for saying that the “Jewish lobby” intimidates many Washington politicos. 

“I’ve always said I’m a supporter of Israel,” he told lawmakers. “In some cases, I’ve said I’m a strong supporter of Israel.” 

He added that he never voted against Israel, “ever,” in the 12 years he was in the Senate, and he pointed to statements from the Israeli ambassador to the United States that have been “fairly positive about me.”

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