WASHINGTON (AP) — Four Senate Democrats said Thursday that Republican Chuck Hagel had allayed their concerns about his past statements on Israel and Iran, and they would vote for President Barack Obama's nominee for defense secretary.
Sens. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Chris Coons of Delaware and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire said they met with Hagel this week and were reassured by his commitment to Israel's security.
Hagel would replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is stepping down.
"Senator Hagel clarified his position on Iran sanctions and Israel, and I am confident he is firmly committed to ensuring a strong U.S.-Israel relationship," Lautenberg said, adding that he and his colleagues will be watching closely "to ensure that issues of concern do not emerge as he takes on this critical position."
Hagel, who served two terms as Nebraska senator, has faced opposition from GOP-leaning outside groups over his past statements about the power of the "Jewish lobby" of pro-Israel groups and his doubts about the effectiveness of unilateral sanctions on Iran.
Six Senate Republicans have said they will vote against his nomination and not one GOP lawmaker has endorsed the nominee. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., writing in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, all but announced his opposition.
"When we are faced with unpredictable national security crises, we can't afford to have a secretary of defense who has unpredictable judgment," Barrasso wrote.
Other lawmakers have said they are waiting for Hagel's confirmation hearing next Thursday in the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Democrats hold a 55-45 edge in the Senate and would have the votes to confirm Hagel.
"Chuck is a combat veteran and foot soldier who has a unique understanding of the challenges faced by our men and women in uniform, and a practical leader who understands the need for common sense in military spending and national security strategy," Manchin said in a statement.
Coons said he believes Hagel "will be a strong and effective secretary of defense, and I will be proud to vote for his confirmation."
Their statements came shortly after Sen. John Kerry, the president's choice for secretary of state, found himself defending Hagel at his confirmation hearing.
"I know Chuck Hagel. I think he is a strong patriotic former senator, and he will be a strong secretary of defense," Kerry said of Hagel, who, like Kerry, served in Vietnam.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker questioned Kerry about Hagel's support for an 80 percent reduction of U.S. nuclear weapons. Possible reductions and modernization of the nuclear arsenal are major issues for the Tennessee lawmaker, who has the Y-12 nuclear facility in his state.
Corker has expressed concerns about Hagel, questioning whether the Republican's "overall temperament" makes his suitable for the job.