Sen. Boxer to back Hagel for Defense post

Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerTime is now to address infrastructure needs Tom Steyer testing waters for Calif. gubernatorial bid Another day, another dollar for retirement advice rip-offs MORE (D-Calif.) said Monday that she intends to back former Sen. Chuck HagelChuck HagelLobbying World The US just attacked Syria. So where's Congress? Senators tear into Marines on nude photo scandal 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 SchumerOvernight Finance: Dems introduce minimum wage bill | Sanders clashes with Trump budget chief | Border tax proposal at death's door Sanders, Democrats introduce minimum wage bill Top House, Senate Dems ask Interior not to eliminate national monuments 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.