WASHINGTON – Chuck Hagel secured the backing of two of the staunchest pro-Israel Senate Democrats in a clear boost to the Republicans prospects of becoming President Obamas next defense secretary.
Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York and Barbara Boxer of California said Tuesday that they had spoken extensively with Hagel and he had addressed their earlier fears that he was anti-Israel, too soft on Iran and opposed to gay rights.
Based on several key assurances provided by Sen. Hagel, I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation, Schumer said the day after a 90-minute meeting with Hagel at the White House.
Boxer expressed her support after receiving a letter from Hagel in which he insisted he supports Obamas foreign policy positions. In the letter, the former Nebraska senator also expressed regret for using the term Jewish lobby to describe pro-Israel groups, calling it a very poor choice of words.
Republicans said it was highly unlikely that Schumer and Boxer would have opposed an Obama nominee at the start of his second term. Still, the support of two of the most prominent Jewish members of the Senate is certain to ease concerns among pro-Israel lawmakers and rally noncommittal Democrats to Hagels side.
The Republican nominee must contend with opposition from the GOP ranks as Obama faces challenges to his choices in a fiercely partisan atmosphere.
Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said late Tuesday that he would oppose Hagels nomination even though he called him a good person who made sacrifices during the Vietnam War.
A handful of other Republicans have announced their opposition to Hagel.
Democrats hold a 55-45 advantage in the Senate and would have the votes to confirm Hagel on a simple majority, but they would need five Republican votes for the 60-vote threshold to break a GOP filibuster.
A Republican effort to block Obamas choice of a former Republican senator would set off a firestorm as Senate leaders try to negotiate new rules on filibusters.