Omaha World-Herald


Published Saturday  |  September 8, 2007

Hagel is calling it quits



WASHINGTON - Chuck Hagel will announce Monday that he is retiring from the U.S. Senate and will not run for president next year, people close to the Nebraska Republican said Friday.


REBECCA S. GRATZ/THE WORLD-HERALD  Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel plans to leave the Senate after two terms as a Republican Party maverick, people close to him say.


Hagel plans to announce that "he will not run for re-election and that he does not intend to be a candidate for any office in 2008," said one person, who asked not to be named.


Hagel has scheduled a press conference for 10 a.m. Monday at the Omaha Press Club.


According to one person interviewed, Hagel told Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on Friday morning that he had decided to retire. Hagel's staff learned of his decision that afternoon.


The North Platte native earned national recognition as perhaps the most vocal, at times angry, GOP critic of the Bush administration's Iraq policies.


His outspokenness on Iraq and other key issues, including Social Security and foreign policy, fueled national interest in Hagel as he flirted with a possible presidential bid.


His national profile reached its zenith in March, when he headed to Omaha to hold a press conference on his political future.


But amid wide speculation that he was leaning toward a White House run, Hagel announced that he would disclose his plans later in the year.


His pending retirement leaves another GOP Senate seat without an incumbent at a time when the Republican Party is struggling to stem potential losses and must defend more seats than Democrats.


In Nebraska, the news will trigger a scramble among possible successors.


Attorney General Jon Bruning has been campaigning for the GOP Senate nomination since spring. A second Republican, financial adviser Pat Flynn of Schuyler, also already announced his candidacy.


Other Republicans who could enter the race are former Gov. Mike Johanns, now the U.S. agriculture secretary; former Omaha Mayor Hal Daub; and Columbus businessman Tony Raimondo.


Former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey, president of the New School University in New York City, has voiced interest in returning to the Senate.


Also mentioned by Nebraska Democrats are Scott Kleeb, who lost a race to Republican Adrian Smith in the 3rd Congressional District last year, and Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey.


Hagel, 60, would leave office after two terms, ending a career in which he was a frequently reliable Republican vote - but unafraid to show a maverick streak.


Armed with a deep voice and somber demeanor, Hagel rose quickly in the Senate, developing an international reputation perhaps faster than any previous Nebraska lawmaker.


He has become a leading Senate voice on foreign policy, promoting a pragmatic approach of reaching out to allies and adversaries alike to build economic, social and political relationships.


A decorated Vietnam combat veteran, Hagel drew the most attention for his break with the Republican president on Iraq.


Early this year, his frustration erupted after Bush announced plans for a troop buildup to try to curb violence in Iraq. Hagel labeled it "the worst foreign policy blunder since Vietnam - if it's carried out."


That and other criticism triggered a backlash from some conservatives, who viewed him as disloyal to the Republican president and potentially jeopardizing troops abroad.


Hagel didn't relish the attacks. He explained how Vietnam had a big impact on his view of this war. He recalled Congress' silence during much of Vietnam, as well as the 58,000 Americans who died. He said he didn't want that history to repeat itself.


"I'll be damned if I'm going to stand there and accept the status quo and let it all happen again," he said.


Chuck Hagel never just stood there.


Born in 1946, he was the oldest of four sons raised by Charles and Betty Hagel. He grew up in North Platte and in Rushville, Ainsworth and Columbus.


Life changed abruptly when his father died of a heart attack on Christmas Eve in 1962. It thrust Hagel, then 16, into the role of a father figure for his younger brothers, one of whom would die a few years later in a car accident.


Sent to Vietnam in 1968, he served for a time with his brother Tom, seeing the violence of war up close. The brothers saved each other's lives, they saw friends die, they lived in fear.


Chuck Hagel supported the war then, but changed his view later after hearing tape recordings of former President Lyndon Johnson saying he knew the United States couldn't win but didn't want to be saddled in history with defeat.


In 1971, Hagel landed a job on Capitol Hill as an aide to Republican Rep. John Y. McCollister, who promoted him within two years to chief of staff.


From the late 1970s to the 1990s, he worked as a lobbyist, Veterans Administration official, cellular telephone industry pioneer, USO official and investment banker.


In the 1996 Senate race, he upset then-Gov. Ben Nelson.


In 1997, he teamed with Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., to lead the Senate to a 95-0 vote opposing the Kyoto Protocol, a global warming treaty that was intended to curb the effects of greenhouse gases from developing nations.


He played a key role in reauthorizing the International Monetary Fund, which helps emerging economies worldwide.


Hagel-authored provisions to allow more easily traceable political contributions were included in major campaign finance reform legislation that Congress passed.


During Hagel's first year in the Senate, Washington Post columnist David Broder referred to him as "the freshman who probably has made the deepest impression on his colleagues."


He won re-election in 2002 with 83 percent of the vote.


Among second-term achievements were energy bill provisions promoting the development of clean-air technology to curb greenhouse gas emissions.


He worked on a number of Nebraska issues, including community banking, air service to rural areas and health care.


With a telegenic personality, Hagel has become a fixture on the Sunday TV talk show circuit, racking up more than 100 appearances. The topic often was foreign policy, Hagel's strongest passion.


As a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has traveled widely overseas, building relationships with foreign leaders that have given him a personal and independent view of foreign policy matters.


Hagel always freely expressed his opinions, often in a provocative manner. His temper can flare as it frequently has against the Bush administration over Iraq. Friends say that passion, coupled with his intelligence, have made him unusual in Washington.


"Chuck is one of those political leaders who marches to a drummer of his own," Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former secretary of state, said several years ago. "He decides what he believes, then he speaks out."



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