Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s nominee for defense secretary, is getting public support from the national firefighters’ union, which is buying print and television advertisements urging the Senate to confirm him.
“Chuck Hagel supported firefighters when he was in the Senate, and our mantra has always been that we support those who support us,” Harold Schaitberger, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said in a statement.
The union, which claims more than 300,000 members, is running ads in the Washington area on cable television shows such as MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Fox News’s “Hannity,” and “The Situation Room” on CNN, Schaitberger said yesterday by telephone. The group also will place ads on the Politico website and in The Hill newspaper.
While Hagel, 66, is a Republican and former Nebraska senator, he has drawn sharp criticism from members of his party on issues ranging from his past opposition to unilateral sanctions against Iran to his comments about the influence of what he once called “the Jewish lobby.”
Democrats control 55 of the 100 votes in the Senate, and Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, predicted last week that all of them will back Hagel. In addition, at least five Republicans have said they would help muster the supermajority of 60 votes that would be needed to overcome an attempt to block a confirmation vote.
Levin said yesterday the nomination won’t come up for a vote by his panel this week.
“The committee’s review of the nomination is not yet complete,” Levin said in a statement. He said he will schedule a vote “as soon as possible.”
In supporting Hagel, Schaitberger cited the nominee’s support for firefighters’ work on the “domestic frontline” as well as his championing of the Homeland Security Department. Hagel, who served in the Senate from 1997 to 2009, received two Purple Hearts as an Army enlisted man in the Vietnam War.
“Hagel always recognized the importance of maintaining the home front,” said Schaitberger. “He represents what our membership is.”
Among his union’s members, 30 percent to 40 percent are veterans, Schaitberger said. “They have a keen awareness and connection with someone that has served.”
“We feel very strongly about this senator and his record,” said Schaitberger, calling Hagel “a man of conviction” who’s been willing “to take the tough stance.”
Schaitberger said his group would make a “significant investment” on ads and gave no specifics.
While concentrating for now on the Washington area, the union may consider advertising on a state-by-state basis, said Schaitberger.
The union’s endorsement of Hagel “is the latest in the line of public discourse about Senator Hagel’s qualifications,” said Marie Harf, a White House spokeswoman. “This has been a very public confirmation.”
Schaitberger’s organization backed Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. The union also endorsed Democrats John Kerry, the 2004 nominee, and Al Gore, the 2000 standard-bearer.