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Hagel apologizes for 'insensitive' 1998 slam of gay nominee

Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator and rumored top pick for the next Secretary of Defense, has apologized for his 1998 opposition to a ambassadorial nominee because he was "openly, aggressively gay."

"My comments 14 years ago in 1998 were insensitive," Hagel said in a statement. "They do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record, and I apologize to Ambassador Hormel and any LGBT Americans who may question my commitment to their civil rights.  I am fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to LGBT military families.”

Hagel's original comment came in response to the nomination of James Hormel, tapped by Bill Clinton to be ambassador to Luxembourg. At the time, Hagel questioned how an openly gay ambassador would be effective at "representing our lifestyle, our values, our standards."

LGBT groups have critiqued Hagel for the 1998 statement, as well as for his long-time support for now-repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy towards gay military servicemembers.

The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT rights organization, praised Hagel's apology in a statement.

"Senator Hagel's apology and his statement of support for LGBT equality is appreciated and shows just how far as a country we have come when a conservative former Senator from Nebraska can have a change of heart on LGBT issues," said HRC President Chad Griffin. "Our community continues to add allies to our ranks and we're proud that Senator Hagel is one of them."