Back when we first started writing about John Hagee back in 2006, we took issue with Kathleen Parker’s claim that people like Hagee were not very influential because nobody at the White House took them seriously. As we noted at the time, that argument would have been more effective had Hagee and others from his Christians United for Israel not regularly been invited to the White House and had President Bush not been sending messages to their annual gatherings.
As it turns out, Hagee did indeed have significant influence at the White House, as Scott McClellan confirmed yesterday in an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air” – from the transcript:
GROSS: My guest is Scott McClellan. He was the White House press secretary from July ’03 to May of ’06. And his new memoir about those years is called “What Happened.”
I’ve got a John Hagee question for you. You devote some of your memoir “What Happened” to social conservatives and their influence on policy in the Bush administration. And I know when John Hagee, who’s been so much in the news lately, ever since his endorsement of McCain, which that’s a bond that’s been broken.
Mr. McCLELLAN: Yes.
GROSS: When he had his first summit for the Christian Zionist group that he founded, Christians United for Israel, President Bush sent a recorded greeting to Hagee and to the conference. Did Hagee have much sway within the Bush administration?
Mr. McCLELLAN: Well, he was one of a number of evangelical pastors, social conservative ones that were certainly part of our outreach at the White House. We had a person and a public liaison that was specifically tasked with reaching out to social conservative leaders. And so those leaders, yes, had a heavy influence on some of the White House policies. And I think that was one of the things that also hurt the president was that, at times it looked like his emphasis was on some of these issues that were important to social conservatives, like Terry Schiavo, like the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, and stem cell research. I think a lot of people were wondering, `Why are you spending so much time focusing on these issues when, you know, there are issues on energy and health care and the economy that need to be addressed?’
GROSS: So Pastor Hagee was influential within the Bush administration?
Mr. McCLELLAN: I’d say he was one of a number that certainly had some influence and was able to quickly get someone on the phone at the White House. So yes.
Speaking of Hagee, it looks like all the negative press he has received in recent weeks is not dampening his standing in the community, as Joe Lieberman and Gary Bauer continue to stand by him, some Jewish leaders continue to praise his pro-Israel views, and some churches still want him to address their conferences: