Sen. Boxer to back Hagel for Defense post

Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerDems gain upper hand on budget Overnight Finance: Senate rejects funding bill as shutdown looms | Labor Dept. to probe Wells Fargo | Fed to ease stress test rules for small banks Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears MORE (D-Calif.) said Monday that she intends to back former Sen. Chuck HagelChuck HagelCreating a future for vets in DC Republicans back Clinton, but will she put them in Pentagon? There's still time for another third-party option MORE (R-Neb.) for Defense secretary.

“After speaking extensively with Sen. Hagel by phone last week and after receiving a detailed written response to my questions late today, I will support Sen. Hagel’s nomination as secretary of Defense,” said Boxer in a statement.

Boxer said that Hagel had “pledged without reservation to support President Obama’s polices — policies that I believe have made our world safer and our alliances stronger.”

The senator’s support provides a strong boost for Hagel, who has courted Democrats on Capitol Hill this week ahead of what is likely to be a tough confirmation fight.

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Hagel, who has been tapped to replace departing Secretary Leon Panetta, has been under intense scrutiny over past remarks accusing a “Jewish lobby” of intimidating lawmakers and calls for the U.S. to diplomatically engage Iran and Hamas.

Pro-Jewish groups and many GOP senators have said Hagel would be a weak ally to Israel and not work forcefully to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Additionally, pro-gay-rights groups have seized on his past criticism of an openly gay ambassadorial nominee. Hagel has apologized for those remarks.

The California senator said Hagel had clarified his position on a number of issues, including Iran and Israel. Boxer said “his answers were reassuring and show a sensitivity and understanding.”

In a letter to Boxer, Hagel said he regretted using the term “Jewish lobby,” calling it a “very poor choice of words.”  

“America’s relationship with Israel is one that is fundamentally built on our nations' shared values, common interests and democratic ideals,” said Hagel. “I fully intend to expand the depth and breadth of U.S.-Israel cooperation.”

Hagel on Monday also met with Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Democrats press Wells Fargo CEO for more answers on scandal 78 lawmakers vote to sustain Obama veto MORE (D-N.Y.), a strong Israel supporter, whose backing for the nominee could be crucial in swinging other Democrats.

Boxer will hold a press conference Tuesday at 11 a.m. to discuss her support for Hagel.