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Barney Frank dials back opposition to Chuck Hagel nomination

WASHINGTON - Former representative Barney Frank is dialing back his opposition to the pending nomination of former senator Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, saying he is willing to look past the Nebraska Republican’s comments about gays because it is more important that his views prevail on drawing down the war in Afghanistan and reducing wasteful defense spending.

“I was hoping the president wouldn’t nominate him,” Frank told the Globe today.

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“As much as I regret what Hagel said, and resent what he said, the question now is going to be Afghanistan and scaling back the military,” Frank said. “In terms of the policy stuff, if he would be rejected [by the Senate], it would be a setback for those things.”

Although he retired from the House last week after 32 years, Frank remains a prominent gay rights spokesman and has also publicly asked Governor Deval Patrick to appoint him as the interim successor should Senator John F. Kerry resign to become secretary of state.

Depending on scheduling, that could happen after any confirmation vote on Hagel, or perhaps be one of the new senator’s first votes.

Hagel, who Obama is reportedly planning to nominate to the Pentagon post this afternoon, has come under fire from both left and right for his past views on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trangendered Americans, as well as his perceived lack of steadfastness for Israel and softness on Iran.

Frank, a former Newton Democrat and the first openly gay member of Congress, put out this statement about Hagel’s potential nod before he left office last week:

“Then-Senator Hagel’s aggressively bigoted opposition to President Clinton’s naming the first openly gay Ambassador in US history was not, as [former] senator Hagel now claims, an aberration. He voted consistently against fairness for LGBT people and there does not seem to be any evidence prior to his effort to become secretary of defense of any apology or retraction of his attack on James Hormel. And to those of us who admire and respect Mr. Hormel, Senator Hagel’s description of him as aggressive can only mean that the senator strongly objected to Hormel’s reasoned, civil advocacy for LGBT people.”

The Jan. 2 statement from Frank concluded: “I cannot think of any other minority group in the US today where such a negative statement and action made in 1998 would not be an obstacle to a major presidential appointment.”

But the opposition from the left may now be dampening, which would be good news for Hagel’s chances. Amid lingering GOP opposition to his nomination, Hagel’s fortunes will depend heavily on Democrats in the Senate, who hold a majority in the chamber.

“With the attack coming out of the right, I hope he gets confirmed,” Frank said today.

Bryan Bender can be reached at bender@globe.com.
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