Sen. Cochran becomes first Republican to back Hagel to lead Pentagon

Sen. Thad CochranThad CochranWhy a bill about catfish will show whether Ryan's serious about regulatory reform Capitol locked down for second time in a week This week: Congress eyes the exits in dash to recess MORE (Miss.) on Wednesday became the first Republican to cross party lines and back former Sen. Chuck HagelChuck HagelThere's still time for another third-party option Hagel says NATO deployment could spark a new Cold War with Russia Overnight Defense: House panel unveils 5B defense spending bill MORE (R-Neb.), President Obama's pick to be the next Defense secretary.

A Cochran spokesman confirmed that the Mississippi senator has decided to endorse Hagel, who will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

Gaining the support of Cochran further boosts Hagel’s chances of winning confirmation and succeeding Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the Pentagon.

A dozen Democratic senators have said they will support Hagel, and no Democrats have come out against him, although many have raised some concerns about his selection.

If no Democrats vote against Hagel, then only four more GOP senators would be needed to stop a filibuster attempt, something Republicans have not yet indicated they would attempt.

Six GOP senators have said they will vote against Hagel’s confirmation, and several others have come close to saying they’re opposed.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamGraham: Let special prosecutor probe Clinton emails The Trail 2016: Clinton’s ups and downs Graham: GOP being 'left behind' under Trump MORE (R-S.C.) — who has been critical of Hagel but stopped short of saying he’d vote against him — threatened to place a hold on the confirmation this week unless Panetta testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on last year’s attack in Benghazi, Libya.

Cochran, who is the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, as well as the Defense subcommittee, held a one-on-one meeting with Hagel in the lead-up to his confirmation.

Cochran had hinted that he might support Hagel in an interview with the Omaha World-Herald earlier this month. “Chuck’s one of my best friends,” he said.