Key Jewish lawmakers back Hagel, clearing path to defense post

Chuck Hagel speaking at the announcement of his nomination as secretary of defense, as a smiling President Obama and Homeland Security official John Brennan look on, Jan. 7, 2013. Brennan was tapped as the nominee for CIA director at the same announcement.  (DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

Chuck Hagel speaking at the announcement of his nomination as secretary of defense, as a smiling President Obama and Homeland Security official John Brennan look on, Jan. 7, 2013. Brennan was tapped as the nominee for CIA director at the same announcement. (DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Chuck Hagel added three major Jewish Democrats to his list of endorsers, clearing his way to likely confirmation as secretary of defense.

U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) each said they were satisfied that Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, would advance the U.S.-Israel security relationship and make a priority of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

"I know some will question whether Sen. Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post," Schumer said in a statement Tuesday, a day after he conferred with Hagel. "But I don’t think so. Sen. Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago. His views are genuine and reflect this new reality."

Lawmakers generally take their lead on sensitive issues from colleagues who are affiliated with the interest group in question, and the endorsement of Jewish senators has been seen as critical to Hagel being confirmed.

Also endorsing Hagel was U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. Hagel had drawn fire for his past criticisms of Israeli policy, skepticism about the efficacy of unilateral Iran sanctions, wariness of the repercussions of a military strike on Iran and willingness to engage with Iran and some terrorist groups while also maintaining degrees of isolation.

In conversations with Schumer, Boxer and Wasserman Schultz, Hagel also apologized for having said the "Jewish lobby" is "intimidating" in a 2006 interview.

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