WASHINGTON (CNN) — Sen. John McCain fired away at Cabinet nominee Chuck Hagel during his confirmation hearing Thursday on Capitol Hill, repeatedly interrupting his old friend and accusing him of refusing to answer direct questions.
The sharp exchange marked a years-long falling out between two long-time friends and colleagues. Thirteen years ago, McCain, then a presidential candidate, named Chuck Hagel as a man he’d like to see run the Defense Department.
But more than a decade later, McCain relentlessly tore into that same man, now a former Nebraska senator and nominated to that very post by McCain rival President Barack Obama.
“Let the record show that he refused to answer that question,” McCain said during the markedly heated back-and-forth.
McCain’s question – about whether Hagel repudiated his opposition to the 2007 troop surge in Iraq – was the origin of a deep policy split between the former allies.
In 2007 Hagel called the George W. Bush administration’s surge proposal “the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam,” while McCain threw his support behind the move – which is now widely considered to have been a success.
In his 2008 presidential battle against McCain, then-Senator Barack Obama reversed his position on the surge, acknowledging it had achieved its objectives.
On Thursday, McCain pushed Hagel to reconsider his position.
“The Committee deserves your judgment as to whether you were right or wrong about the surge,” McCain said. “Are you going to answer the question, Senator Hagel? The question is were you right or wrong. That’s a pretty straightforward question. I would like to answer it with whether you were right or wrong and then you are free to elaborate.”
Hagel would not answer yes or no, but instead offered to explain what he said was a nuanced position.
“Well, I’m not gonna give you a yes or no,” he said. “I think it’s far more complicated than that and as I’ve already said, my answer is I’ll defer that judgment to history.”
McCain offered a stern rebuke.
“I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you’re on the wrong side of it and your refusal to answer whether you were right or wrong about it, it’s going to have an impact on my judgment as to whether to vote for your confirmation or not,” McCain said. “I hope you will reconsider the fact that you refused to answer a fundamental question about an issue that took the lives of thousands of young Americans.”
By Rachel Streitfeld – CNN Congressional Producer
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