Is Hagel the best pick for secretary of defense?

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," January 31, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: Tonight, President Barack Obama's pick to be the next secretary of defense -- and that's former Senator Chuck Hagel -- he came under heavy fire today during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Republicans held Hagel's feet to the fire and they asked him a slew of tough questions about his past controversial comments, including his anti-Semitic positions. Watch this.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: He said the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here, I'm not an Israeli senator, I'm a United States senator. This pressure makes us do dumb things at times. You said the Jewish lobby should not have been, that term should not have been used, should been some other term. Name one person in your opinion who is intimidated by the Israel lobby in the United States Senate.

FMR. SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, R-NEB.: Well, first.

GRAHAM: Name one.

HAGEL: I don't know.

GRAHAM: Why would you say it?

HAGEL: I didn't have in mind a specific person.

GRAHAM: Do you agree that it is a provocative statement? That I can't think of a more provocative thing to say about the relationship between the United States and Israel and the Senate and the Congress than what you said.

SEN. TED CRUZ, R-TEXAS: In a speech on the floor of the Senate, you referred to Israel's military campaign against the terrorist group Hezbollah as a, quote, "sickening slaughter." And I would suggest the characterizations -- do you think it is right that Israel was committing a quote, "sickening slaughter" as you said in the floor of the Senate?

HAGEL: I think, again, I would want to read all of it, what I said. First, I've said many, many times Senator, every nation has a right to defend itself.

CRUZ: Do you think a sickening slaughter would constitute a war crime?

HAGEL: No, it depends on if they were attacked. It depends on many factors.


HANNITY: Ouch! Now, the Republicans did not stop there. Senator John McCain, he also held Chuck Hagel accountable for not supporting the surge in Iraq. Watch this.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: In an interview -- 2011, in an interview with the Financial Times, I disagreed with the President Obama his decision to surge in Iraq as I did with President Bush on the surge in Iraq. Do you stand by those comments, Senator Hagel?

HAGEL: Well, Senator, I stand by them because I made them.

MCCAIN: Were you right? Were you correct in your assessment?

HAGEL: Well I would refer to the judgment of history to sort that out.

MCCAIN: The committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge?

HAGEL: I'll explain why I made those comments.

MCCAIN: I want to know if you were right or wrong, that's a direct question, I except a direct answer.

HAGEL: The surge assisted in the objective. But if we review the record a little bit --

MCCAIN: Please answer the question. Were you correct or incorrect when you said that the surge would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam, were you correct or incorrect? Yes or no?

HAGEL: My reference to the surge being --

MCCAIN: Are you going to answer the question, Senator Hagel? The question is we're you right or wrong. That is a pretty straightforward question. I would like you to answer whether you were right or wrong and then you are free to elaborate.

HAGEL: Well, I'm not going to give you a yes or no answer.

MCCAIN: Well, let the record show, he refuses to answer that question.


HANNITY: And this is the man that President Obama thinks would best defense secretary, pretty unbelievable.

Joining me now to react to today's showdown on Capitol Hill, syndicated columnist Patrick J. Buchanan and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. Gentlemen, welcome back to "Hannity." Good to see you both.


HANNITY: You know, Pat, I was actually going back in time and a few moments there, I thought I was watching a cable news opinion show by the name of "Crossfire." Does that bring back memories for you?

BUCHANAN: Well, I did. I had to testify before the Senate and the Watergate Committee. It brought that back to me, Sean, to tell you the truth. But look, I think Chuck Hagel is a good man, he is a patriot, he has got an independent mind. I disagreed with him on the surge. I supported it. But I'll tell you, I myself said that the Iraq war, the invasion and occupation of that country and killing thousands and thousands of people to deprive it of weapons it did not even have, weapons of mass destruction that were not there, I thought that was one of the greatest blunders in the American military.

HANNITY: Come on Pat. He said Iran's government is elected and legitimate. His comments about --

BUCHANAN: All right. Let me explain to that.

HANNITY: Come on, Pat.

BUCHANAN: All right. Look, we had an embassy in Nazi Germany for eight years recognizing the government as legitimate. Was it wicked and evil? Yes. FDR recognized Stalin and his government in the middle of the wholesale massacre of the Ukrainian people.

HANNITY: Do you really think that this is a legitimate, an elected government in Iran?

BUCHANAN: Unfortunately, it's legitimate, I think they stole the last election but is it in the United Nations? Yes, it is. Should we talk to them? Yes, we should.

HANNITY: To talk to them and whether or not they are legitimate and elected is a different story. Governor, welcome back, good to see you again, sir.

FMR. GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, D-N.M.: Thank you, Sean.

HANNITY: All right. The question I have is, with all these things on the table and all of these controversial positions, Israel, Jewish lobby, I don't think I've ever seen anyone get beaten up so bad in a hearing as Chuck Hagel did today. Why did the president choose him? That's the question.

RICHARDSON: Well, he chose him because Senator Hagel is a war hero, a Vietnam veteran. He served on the Armed Services Committee. He knows -- when I was in Washington, he was the go to guy on veterans' issues. He is a strategic thinker. He knows President Obama well so he will have that access as secretary of defense. Look who has testified for him. Senator John Warner, a Republican, a Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi is for him. I think he is a very good pick.

HANNITY: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Let's go through some of the things he said. He said the United States must eventually eliminate nuclear weapons. He said we must eliminate all nuclear weapons globally. He said that the Israelis are keeping the Palestinians like caged animals.


HANNITY: His comments on -- what?

BUCHANAN: Sean, Ronald Reagan wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons. Would you disqualify him to be secretary of defense?

HANNITY: Ronald Reagan believed in peace through strength and Ronald Reagan had a very different mentality than as does Chuck Hagel here.

BUCHANAN: Get rid of nuclear weapons.

HANNITY: Well, he did, but he also believed in strength. The difference between him and Chuck Hagel is Chuck Hagel wants to pare down military so, it doesn't have the gap of vulnerability that Reagan fixed after Jimmy Carter became president.

RICHARDSON: I think Sean, what you have to look at is the record. For 12 years, Chuck Hagel had a very pro-Israeli voting record. He is somebody that is very committed to peace in the Middle East. He knows the region. He is strong on Israel. On Iran, he made that comments 12 years ago.

HANNITY: He said -- wait a minute.

RICHARDSON: All of us have 30 years of public record of votes. But I think you have to look at the context of him being nominated right now. He is a Republican. He is from Nebraska. He is a war hero.

HANNITY: He's from Nebraska. There's a qualification. I love Nebraska but that is not a qualification to be defense secretary.


RICHARDSON: I meant he is a conservative like you. You should like him.

BUCHANAN: Sean, he has got a voting record, he's got a voting record that would look just like yours.

HANNITY: No, it would not look like mine, Patrick J.


Wait a minute. He says the Israelis, the Palestinians are caged like animals. His comments, he got burned badly by Lindsay Graham today, looked foolish and the same with Ted Cruz and the same with John McCain. He did not seem like he was equipped to answer a single question today, Pat?

BUCHANAN: Look obviously he is being political right now. But would you not agree, even Israelis would agree that the condition of the Palestinian people now is not ideal. That is why they want a two state solution. There is real disagreement with how they are treated in Gaza. Why can't an American not say the same thing?

HANNITY: Patrick J. Buchanan, I don't think the Israelis have put them like caged animals or that quote, "they've been chained down for many years." Israel have been the victim of thousands of rockets fired into their cities that Israelis are helping them.

BUCHANAN: You have to listen to Israelis themselves. People like -- are saying, we are becoming an apartheid state. That is the term they are using in Israel.

HANNITY: All right. Bill Richardson, the only thing I can say, can you at least acknowledge, even the liberal media acknowledged this was a disaster today in terms of the hearing?

RICHARDSON: This is the role of the Senate. They are going to ask very tough questions. They have that right. Right, it was not a good day for Senator Hagel but I believe he will be confirmed. He should be confirmed. And my hope is that the worst is over. He is going to be a very good secretary of defense. I know the guy. He is serious. He is strategic. He is a war hero.

HANNITY: He is from Nebraska.



BUCHANAN: Sean, he is a good guy.

RICHARDSON: All right. All right. OK.

HANNITY: You know why Obama wants him? I'll tell you both. Because nothing better to gut our defenses at a time when the world is melting down that he get a Republican to sign off on it. It's a bad idea, bad choice for the country.

BUCHANAN: Sean, the Republicans themselves are going along with the sequester which the president, defense secretary said is going to gut the military --


HANNITY: But that's just the beginning of what Hagel says he wants. And Pat, let me tell you in this world of evil we need nuclear weapons. And as far as the eye can see, we're going to need nuclear weapons.

BUCHANAN: I think we are but he has got the same vision as Reagan had. One day, hopefully we can get rid of them.

HANNITY: Listen. I remember Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was a close friend of yours. He is no Ronald Reagan.


All right, guys. Good to see you.

BUCHANAN: Take it easy.

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