WASHINGTON — Some of the toughest questions for Chuck Hagel on Thursday came from a fellow Nebraskan.
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., told Hagel that she continues to harbor concerns about his nomination as defense secretary.
“Despite these recent claims to the contrary, you continue to hold, I believe, extreme views far to the left of even this administration,” Fischer told him.
She focused in on a report Hagel co-authored last year on reducing U.S. nuclear weapons.
“I believe there is a recommendation in there, and I believe that the recommendation is to drastically reduce the United States' nuclear forces,” Fischer said.
She specifically brought up part of the report that indicated U.S. ballistic missiles had lost their central utility. Hagel responded by saying the report was not a recommendation, but rather a series of possible scenarios.
He also said the report, laid out reasons why ballistic missiles could lose relevance in the future.
“Those aren't fictional analyses,” Hagel said. “Those — those are facts.”
He noted that the report's authors include “serious people” such as Gen. James E. Cartwright, retired vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former commander of U.S. nuclear forces.
“No one is recommending that we unilaterally do away with our ICBMs,” Hagel said.
“What that report was about was — was looking at where this is going. Again, the title of the report was 'Modernizing Our Nuclear Strategy,' not eliminating it.”
In a second round of questions, Fischer probed how Hagel would prioritize allocating funding among different priorities. She specifically brought up U.S. Strategic Command, which is headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base south of Omaha.
“StratCom is vitally important to the future of this country . . . Of the nine combatant commands, as you know, StratCom is one of them, that's a key command. So we have to continue to fund our commands and find ways to do that, but that's going to require some tough choices and hard decisions,” Hagel said.
Hagel endorsed Fischer's opponent last fall, Democrat Bob Kerrey. Fischer has said that would not factor into her decision on his nomination.
After Thursday's hearing, Fischer told The World-Herald that she wants to spend more time reviewing the transcript from Thursday's hearing before making a decision.
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