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Key US senator supports Hagel for defence chief

PTI Washington | Updated on March 12, 2018

President Barack Obama’s choice to be his new defence secretary won support from an outspoken Senate Democrat today as Chuck Hagel reaches out to all 100 senators in an effort to smooth what’s expected to be a difficult nomination process.

Charles Schumer of New York, an influential Jewish member of the Senate, said in a statement that he met with Hagel for 90 minutes yesterday and that Hagel reassured him on Israel, gays and other issues.

Former senator Hagel, a military veteran, has been criticised over his positions on those issues, notably his referring to some Israel supporters in the US as the “Jewish lobby.”

Hagel will be meeting personally with dozens of senators starting this week, according to an official working on his confirmation. The official was not authorised to speak publicly on the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Schumer said he found Hagel’s responses to be genuine and not stated to quiet his critics, and he urged his Senate colleagues who also had concerns about Hagel’s nomination to support him.

Obama has nominated Hagel to replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Hagel’s nomination requires Senate approval, and his very public confirmation hearing before the Armed Services Committee likely will occur within weeks.

Many Republicans in the Senate are thirsting for a proxy fight over the president as his second term begins. Hagel’s meetings this week will be vital for a nomination that faces outright opposition from a handful of Republicans, including the second-ranking Republican, Sen. John Cornyn, and nervous questions from influential Democrats such as Schumer.

He has critical support. Former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell called Hagel “superbly qualified,” and two high-profile Democrats, Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin and Intelligence panel chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, have praised Hagel’s extensive knowledge of national security issues.

Hagel has been dogged by questions of whether he’s soft on Iran, weak in his backing for Israel and opposed to gay rights.

Published on January 16, 2013

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