Looking back at a long political career, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday lamented an increasingly bitter atmosphere in Washington, saying there was “too much meanness” on display.
His comments come amid a mounting budget crisis in a deeply divided Congress and after Republican lawmakers renewed threats to block the appointment of the man nominated to succeed Panetta at the Pentagon, former senator Chuck Hagel.
Panetta, who served for decades in Washington as an influential lawmaker before holding powerful posts under two Democratic presidents, said his only “disappointment” in his job as Pentagon chief was how Congress sometimes failed to play a constructive role.
But traditions of courtesy and civility were “breaking down” among lawmakers, he said.
Panetta first entered politics as an aide to a Republican senator, Thomas Kuchel, in 1966, then served under president Richard Nixon in the Office for Civil Rights, before resigning over differences with the White House.
He left Washington and worked for New York City Mayor John Lindsay and later was elected as a Democrat to Congress from California, serving for 17 years.
During Bill Clinton’s presidency, Panetta served as budget director and later chief of staff. Under President Barack Obama, Panetta led the CIA from 2009 to 2011 and then served as defense secretary.