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Hagel told senators they must take a stand on “the most divisive issue in the country since Vietnam,” a war in which he fought, but later decided was wrong. His stance put him at odds with his fellow Republican maverick, McCain, and Hagel was pilloried by other Republicans.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney told Newsweek: “I believe firmly in Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment: thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican. But it’s very hard sometimes to adhere to that where Chuck Hagel is involved.”
In 2008, Hagel did not make a public endorsement in the presidential race, but his wife Lilibet endorsed Obama and sat with Obama’s wife Michelle during the last presidential debate.
Hagel skipped the 2008 Republican convention to travel to Central and South America. Then he further irked Republicans by telling the Omaha World-Herald newspaper that it was a “stretch” to say McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin would be qualified to be president.
He was once considered a contender for the 2008 presidency himself, and there was speculation he would join New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on an independent ticket. Instead he said in September 2007 that he was dropping out of politics and retiring from the Senate when his term ended in 2008.
Born in 1946, Hagel grew up in Nebraska as the oldest of four boys, and made a fortune by launching a cellphone company in the 1980s. His father was also a military man, a World War II veteran who died of a heart attack when Chuck was 16.
Hagel and his younger brother Tom volunteered for Vietnam, and Hagel saved Tom’s life there by pulling him out of a burning vehicle.