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WASHINGTON — Chuck Hagel, the former U.S. senator believed to be President Barack Obama's leading choice for defense secretary, apologized Friday for remarks he made in 1998 about an openly gay nominee for an ambassadorship.
In a brief written statement, the Republican said his comments about James C. Hormel were "insensitive" and did not reflect his views "or the totality of my public record." The Vietnam veteran served two terms in the Senate, retiring in 2009.
In an interview with the Omaha World-Herald in 1998, Hagel said he believed that for a U.S. ambassador, "it is an inhibiting factor to be gay." He referred to Hormel as "openly, aggressively gay."
"I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights," Hagel said in Friday's statement. "I am fully supportive of 'open service' and committed to LGBT military families."
Hagel, 66, is considered the leading candidate to replace Leon Panetta at the Pentagon, although a number of senators have expressed reservations about a nomination. Their concerns largely center on Hagel's past comments about Israel and Iran. Outside groups have suggested that based on Hagel's remarks, he isn't sufficiently supportive of Israel.
At least two other candidates remain under serious consideration — former Pentagon policy chief Michele Flournoy and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.