Schumer backs Hagel for Defense secretary, boosting his chances

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday he would support President Obama's nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to head the Defense Department, providing a key swing vote that boosts his chances at confirmation.

Schumer met with Hagel for 90 minutes at the White House on Monday, and said in a statement that the nominee "could not have been more forthcoming and sincere." 

"Based on several key assurances provided by Senator Hagel, I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation," Schumer said. "I encourage my Senate colleagues who have shared my previous concerns to also support him."

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The New York lawmaker had been a key holdout in Hagel's confirmation process, with a bloc of Jewish Democrats looking to him before deciding whether to support his nomination. Supporters of Israel have criticized Hagel's nomination, both for a statement he made referring to the pro-Israel lobby as the "Jewish lobby" and his votes as senator opposing unilateral sanctions against Iran.

Schumer said Tuesday that he had secured commitments that as secretary of Defense, Hagel would support an aggressive stance toward the Iranian regime and continue to provide support for the Israeli military.

"Senator Hagel rejected a strategy of containment and expressed the need to keep all options on the table in confronting that country. But he didn’t stop there,” Schumer said. “In our conversation, Senator Hagel made a crystal-clear promise that he would do ‘whatever it takes’ to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, including the use of military force. He said his 'top priority' as Secretary of Defense would be the planning of military contingencies related to Iran.”

Schumer said Hagel had also apologized for his "Jewish lobby" remark and promised to continue equipping the Israeli military.

"Senator Hagel pledged to work towards the on-time delivery of the F-35 joint strike fighters to Israel, continue the cooperation between Israel and the U.S. on Iron Dome, and recommend to the President that we refuse to join in any NATO exercises if Turkey should continue to insist on excluding Israel from them," Schumer said. "Senator Hagel believes Israel must maintain its Qualitative Military Edge."

Schumer added that he had also received assurances that Hagel — who opposed an ambassador nominee during the Clinton administration after referring to him as "aggressively gay" — would support LGBT rights in the military.

"He said he is committed to implementing the Shaheen amendment to improve the reproductive health of military women," Schumer said. "He also supports the full repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."