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Powell: Hagel ‘superbly qualified’ to be next Defense secretary

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell on Sunday predicted former Sen. Chuck Hagel's (R-Neb.) will be confirmed as secretary of Defense, despite resistance from Republicans in Congress.

Powell, who served in former President George W. Bush’s administration but endorsed President Obama for a second term, appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" to defend Hagel as "superbly qualified based on his overall record, his service to the country, [and] ... how he feels about the troops."

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Obama's nomination of Hagel is expected to prompt a fight over his confirmation by the Senate, but Powell said Hagel has the support of "the men and women in the Armed Forces of the United States and their parents, who know that this is a guy who will be very careful when it comes to putting the troops at risk."

Hagel's nomination has already earned opposition from senior Republican Senators including Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who said Hagel is out of step on foreign policy. Interest groups have also indicated they will lobby against Hagel due to concerns over his views on gay rights and Israel.

Powell said the issues Hagel's opponents are raising "are important issues and that's why we have confirmation hearings." He said Hagel should be allowed to address criticism, especially of past comments, in his own words at the upcoming Senate hearings.

But he also had a warning for national security hawks within the Republican party who have criticized Hagel for past calls urging high-level negotiations with Iran and Hamas.

"They have to remember one thing: It's not President [John] McCain. It's not President [Mitt] Romney. They've lost two elections," he said. Powell said the American people have proved they are more interested in solving volatile situations overseas, for instance with Iran, through negotiation.

Powell added that he has no doubts about Hagel's support of Israel or plans to enforce the administration’s ending of “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” and he said that Hagel would also be committed to following the president's lead and taking responsibility for active and former military servicemembers.

"This is a guy who knows veterans, knows troops, knows the USO," Powell said, describing Hagel as a man of "courage" who "knows what war is."

In his interview, Powell also charged that the GOP was in danger of alienating centrist and minority voters, saying that the party was suffering from an “identity problem.”

Despite endorsing Obama’s reelection bid, Powell said he was “still a Republican.”

“I think what the Republican Party needs to do now is take a very hard look at itself and understand that the country has changed,” said Powell. “The country is changing demographically. And if the Republican Party does not change along with that demographic, they're going to be in trouble."

Powell said he feared there was a “dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party.”