Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY) was one of the most vociferous opponents of Chuck Hagel’s nomination for secretary of defense, telling a C-SPAN roundtable late last year that “It seems there is some kind of endemic hostility toward Israel, and that’s troublesome for me and for a lot of other people.” Now that Hagel is defense secretary, he’s striking a more conciliatory tone. The Algemeiner was able to catch up with him at this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference which is taking place right now in Washington, D.C.
On Hagel’s confirmation: “He’s the defense secretary. I want to work with him. We have a process, the president is entitled to nominate who he wants, actually the House has nothing to do with it, the Senate confirmed him and so I look forward to working with him and we start a new chapter, we turn the page, we start anew.”
On whether Hagel’s policies will mirror those of the White House: “There’s no way to know. The president is his boss and policy is set by the president. This is true for all administrations so you know, we’ll see. I don’t want to second guess or jump the gun; I’m hopeful. The president is going to Israel. I’m happy about that and I hope we move forward from here.
On the USS Harry Truman becoming a casualty of the sequester: “I think it should remain in the Persian Gulf. I think this is one of the unfortunate results of sequester. I think the whole sequestration was a ridiculous thing. I voted against the original House bill a year and a half ago and now it’s coming home to roost. The president wants to demonstrate, and rightfully so, that he’s not playing games here. Republicans can’t have it both ways. They are the impediment now to keeping the sequester from dissipating. If we’re going to operate and do separate budgets and undo the sequester then everything has got to be on the table. They exacerbate the situation by saying cuts but no defense cuts.”
On national security and the sequester: “I think Congress is using it as a political weapon. I think that Congress shouldn’t allow these heavy defense cuts to kick in and the only way to not have that happen is to undo the sequester. It’s simple.
On whether the sequester will hit aid to Israel? I think everything’s going to be hit. There will be an attempt to have it not effect Israel’s aid and Iron Dome but it’s going to be difficult, unfortunately, because once you start exempting one program or another it’s a precedent, and everyone is gong to want to start having their program exempted. So the only way to make sure Israel doesn’t take a hit is to undo the sequester, which is what I’m trying to do.”