Video: Sen. Hagel’s brother talks

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updated 3/12/2007 8:40:34 PM ET 2007-03-13T00:40:34

Earlier Monday, Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) announced that he would make a decision about his political future later in the year. Later, Tom Hagel, who served in Vietnam with his brother, told Hardball whether he thinks his brother will end up running for president. 

Chuck and Tom Hagel took different political paths after their serving together in Vietnam.  Tom, a Democrat, helped the Kerry-Edwards 2004 campaign organize veteran support in Ohio. He is also a law professor at the University of Dayton.

NBC's David Gregory talked to Tom Hagel, brother of Sen. Chuck Hagel on "Hardball," which aired tonight at 5 and 7 p.m. (ET).

The following is a transcript of the interview:

DAVID GREGORY, GUEST HOST, "HARDBALL":  Tom, thanks for being with us.  So, what was this about today?  Is your brother in or out?

TOM HAGEL, BROTHER OF SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: You know as much about it as I do. I talked to him last week, and he told me what he was going to say.   And I think that his inclination is to be in.  And to be quite frank with you, I would expect him ultimately to throw his hat in the ring.

GREGORY:  So, why not do it today?  What else is he waiting for?

T. HAGEL:  That I don’t know.  I don’t know the specifics.  But if I had to guess, I would say that he ultimately will do it.

GREGORY:  So, why does he want in?  As he looks at this landscape on the Republican side, what opening does he see for himself?

T. HAGEL:  That’s the question I have.  You look at the reality of the situation, and I think that you have a number of people that are already out there, that seem to represent representation for, you know, certain segments of the Republican Party, and maybe for the electorate in general.

But I think that he sees himself as a candidate who can rise above the run-of-the-mill political babble that goes on.

GREGORY:  All right.  But what does that mean exactly?  Because one of the things that does set him apart right now, he is conservative.  There’s a lot of talk about who’s the true conservative in this race.  But he is running away from this president, and fast, on the war.

Is that really what is going to define a Chuck Hagel campaign, is that he was the Republican who stood up to Bush on the war and said, this is wrong, this isn’t working, you botched this?

T. HAGEL:  I don’t think it could be any other way, because of the place that the war is in the public mind today, that is the key concern, apparently, with society.  That if he enters into this race, based on the positions he’s already stated, I don’t see how it could not set the context for his entire campaign.

GREGORY:  What does he think about not only the war, but about the political standing for Republicans?  Does he think that Republicans will pay a price for having stood by Bush on the war?

T. HAGEL:  I think he does.  But I don’t think that that has anything to do with his position.

If you look at historically, you can go all the way back, and he has been a pretty consistent critic of this war, where I think there’s some.

GREGORY:  But he did vote for it.  He voted for the war.

T. HAGEL:  That’s true.

GREGORY:  He voted to give the president the authority.

T. HAGEL:  That’s true.  And I remember watching that speech, and I thought it was going to be a run-up to all the reasons why he was not going to vote for it, and then he did.  And I think he did that, quite frankly, out of party loyalty, or maybe he actually believed what the president was saying.

GREGORY:  But he thinks that vote was wrong now?

T. HAGEL:  Somebody’s going to have to ask them that, and I’m sure somebody - if they haven’t already - will.

But again, the problem, that problem is going to be confronted by him, just like it is by Senator Clinton, about the concern about flip-flop, which is - I think maybe that defines how frivolous some people look at the process of political debate in this country.


GREGORY:  Well, Tom, let me ask you this.  You’re a Democrat.

T. HAGEL:  Yes.

GREGORY:  So, this is going to serve some of your - be a little bit self-serving.  But you’ve talked to your brother.  Your brother’s an astute political analyst, as well as a senator.

How hard does he think it’s going to be for a Republican to win next year?

T. HAGEL:  I mean, he has not confided in me any great details that probably are not available to everybody else.

But I don’t think he is even focused on that.  I think he is solely focused - to be real frank with you right now - I think he is solely focused on doing what he can to provide leadership to get out of this war.

GREGORY:  Right.

T. HAGEL:  Secondly, of course, I believe - I’m not, I don’t have any inside information - but I believe he’ll ultimately throw his hat in the ring.  And I think that is going to be the primary, leading subject, if you will - goal, maybe - of coming up with some plan to get out of this mistaken war that we’re in.

GREGORY:  You talk about war.  Your life, your brother’s life, very much defined by your service in Vietnam.

T. HAGEL:  Yes.

GREGORY:  Take me through that, serving with your brother, and your experience in Vietnam and how it has colored both of your views about this war.

T. HAGEL:  It can’t help but color a person’s view, regardless of what their service was.

But our service was, we were infantry riflemen in the Mekong Delta in 1968 - a bad year over there - and we saw a lot of the worst of it.

And that’s why I think his position on the war deserves so much more credibility than most other of his colleagues.  Because when they talk about the war in Iraq, putting it on ground level, the best they can do, and rightfully so, is look at it in the abstract.

He is maybe the only person in the Senate who actually knows what those folks are confronting each and every day.

GREGORY:  He’s been in the mud .

T. HAGEL:  Yes, he has.

GREGORY:  And seen the hard reality of battle.  He saved your life there, didn’t he?

T. HAGEL:  Yes.

GREGORY:  Tell me about that.

T. HAGEL:  I don’t know if I want to get into all that.

GREGORY:  It was a tough period.

T. HAGEL:  Yes. Very difficult.

GREGORY:  It was remarkable, wasn’t it, that you two were even serving in the same place.

T. HAGEL:  Yes.  Neither one of us can explain it.  We were in, in fact, totally different ends of the country, and we end up not only in the same infantry division, but the same battalion, the same company and the same squad.

And we were tighter in the field, I think altogether about seven or eight months of our time over there.  So, we saw a lot of awful things.

GREGORY:  And you both came out with different views about the war in Vietnam.

T. HAGEL:  Initially, yes.  When I left, I was absolutely frustrated and angry, because I felt that we had been lied to and misused, and that a lot of people lost their life and were affected through various types of wounds that would affect them the rest of their life - for nothing.

And Chuck took the other end.  And he believed that it was a justified war, justified conflict, our involvement was justified.  And he held that position for a long time.

But as he may tell you - I know he’s talked about this with other people recently - that he has changed his mind dramatically on that.

GREGORY:  Just in case people are just looking up now, I just want to be very clear.

Your view after this announcement today that left some people shaking their heads, is that this was just a precursor to your brother, Senator Hagel, getting into the race for president.  That’s your view, that that will happen in time.

T. HAGEL:  My gut tells me that is correct.  I don’t have any inside information.  But knowing Chuck, I think that he is - it’s just a matter of time.

GREGORY:  Do you think he’d win?

T. HAGEL:  I’ve talked to him about that.  And I told him that, even though I’m a Democrat, if he wants to throw his hat in the ring, more power to him.

I’m not going to be involved in the campaign, but I said that .

GREGORY:  Would you vote for him, though?  Can he get his brother’s vote?

(LAUGHTER)

T. HAGEL:  Well, who knows who will be running, right?

GREGORY:  You’re not going to commit yet?

T. HAGEL:  No, because I don’t want to turn our relationship into, you know, I guess subject it to all the political problems that could arise.

But one thing I told him is that, it’s my belief that his biggest problem will be getting the nomination.  Because the people who run the political - or, the Republican Party today, are the type of people who will punish him for being honest and taking a stand.

GREGORY:  All right.  Tom Hagel, Senator Chuck Hagel’s brother, coming on the program tonight, exclusively. Thanks very much.

T. HAGEL:  Thank you.

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