Editor's note: This story was originally published July 3, 1998.
One day last month, Bob Kerrey asked his Senate colleague and fellow Nebraskan, Chuck Hagel, a favor: Could Kerrey stop by with a controversial ambassadorial nominee who wanted to make a personal pitch to Hagel?
Sure, Hagel said, bring him over.
The meeting didn't turn out as Kerrey wished.
As a courtesy to Kerrey, Hagel said, he would listen to the man - James C. Hormel, 64, a Democratic donor, lawyer and philanthropist - whose nomination to become ambassador to Luxembourg has been blocked in the Senate, his backers say, simply because he is gay.
Perhaps Kerrey had hoped Hormel's Nebraska tie might help. The nominee's grandfather, George A. Hormel, founded the giant Hormel Foods, which opened a meatpacking plant in Fremont in 1947.
Perhaps Kerrey had hoped Hormel's philanthropic record would impress. The National Society of Fundraising Executives named him its outstanding philanthropist for 1996.
"We would love to have somebody like James Hormel as part of the Omaha community," Kerrey said recently. "He's actively involved, he gives generously to very important civic efforts."
Hormel, trying to move his nomination forward, had contacted Kerrey, who turned to Hagel. On June 3 Kerrey escorted Hormel and a State Department official to a meeting in Hagel's office. As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, which is overseeing the nomination, Hagel could play a helpful role.
"We had a good conversation," Hagel, a Republican, recalled last week. "He's a nice fellow."
Kerrey, a Democrat, called Hormel "as well - qualified a nominee as I've seen" and said the meeting led him to think Hagel would support Hormel for the job.
Ambassadorial posts are sensitive, Hagel explained.
"They are representing America," he said. "They are representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards. And I think it is an inhibiting factor to be gay - openly aggressively gay like Mr. Hormel - to do an effective job."
Hagel noted a documentary, filmed with money Hormel donated, that showed teachers how they could teach children about homosexuality. He said he had seen another video clip that showed Hormel at what Hagel called an anti - Catholic event in San Francisco, featuring the "Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence," a group of male drag queens.
"It is very clear on this tape that he's laughing and enjoying the antics of an anti - Catholic gay group in this gay parade," Hagel said. "I think it's wise for the president not to go forward with this nomination."
Luxembourg, he noted, is about 95 percent Roman Catholic.
Hagel thus became the latest of a group of Senate conservatives to come out against Hormel's nomination. Critics say the group is discriminating against a qualified nominee.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D - Calif., has defended Hormel, saying he opposes all forms of discrimination.
Over the years Hormel, a former dean of the Chicago Law School, has given money to civil - rights groups, colleges, symphonies, and to groups fighting autism, breast cancer and AIDS. Hormel listed the contributions in a letter to a supporter, Sen. Gordon Smith, R - Ore. In the letter, Hormel said he provided "minor" support for the teacher documentary and had no control over its content.
The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay group, says the videotape from the San Francisco event resulted when men dressed as nuns walked past a broadcast booth where Hormel, a well - known civic leader in the city, was giving an interview to a local reporter.
Hormel's homosexuality is not the problem, say Hagel and other opponents of the nomination. It's his openness about being gay and his advocacy of some causes, they say.
The Senate's majority leader, Trent Lott, R - Miss., heated the issue recently when he said homosexuality was a problem that should be treated "just like alcohol or sex addiction or kleptomania."
Fellow Republican Sen. Alfonse D'Amato of New York took him to task: "On a personal level, I am embarrassed that our Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, is seen to be the force behind this injustice," D'Amato wrote to Lott, calling for the nomination to be brought to a vote.
Then Sen. Jesse Helms, R - N.C., weighed in against D'Amato, accusing the New Yorker of using the issue to boost his re - election bid.
Helms, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has vowed to continue blocking a vote on Hormel. The committee on a voice vote last October recommended Hormel's nomination to the full Senate. It has been held up since.
Hormel's supporters say they have the 60 votes needed to break the hold on the nomination - if Lott will allow it to come to the floor.
Hagel, meanwhile, said a homosexual should not necessarily be disqualified from all ambassadorships.
His approach to nominees, he said, has been to examine the person's qualifications first. The United States has had gay ambassadors in the past and gays in the military, who have done well by quietly adopting the Pentagon's current "don't ask, don't tell" attitude.
Hormel, however, has gone beyond that, Hagel said.
He "very aggressively told the world of his gayness and the funding and all the things he's been involved in. I think you do go beyond common sense there, and reason and a certain amount of decorum," Hagel said.
"If you send an ambassador abroad with a cloud of controversy hanging over him, then I think it's unfair to our country, it's unfair to the host country and it's unfair to the ambassador because the effectiveness of that individual is going to be seriously curtailed. That's just a fact of life. And I believe Hormel's situation is one of those."