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

Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranBottom line Bottom line Alabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future MORE (Miss.) on Wednesday became the first Republican to cross party lines and back former Sen. Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelInterpreter who helped rescue Biden in 2008 escapes Afghanistan Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security 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.

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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 Olin GrahamSenators huddle on Russia sanctions as tensions escalate Juan Williams: It's Trump vs. McConnell for the GOP's future Biden's year two won't be about bipartisanship  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.