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BOSTON (AP) — Maine Sen. Angus King said Thursday that he sees no strong reason to oppose former Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama's pick for secretary of defense.
King, a newly elected independent, said he won't make a final decision on Hagel's nomination until confirmation hearings are finished. King serves as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing Jan. 31.
“I start with a presumption that the president should be able to appoint his own people to his Cabinet,” King said. “So unless there's some strong disqualifying element or quality to the nominee, I start with that positive presumption.”
Asked whether he saw a strong disqualifying element or quality with Hagel, King said no. “But I want to see what the testimony is at the hearing and have a chance to talk to him directly.”
King is scheduled to meet privately today with Hagel, R-Neb.
A handful of Republicans, including the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, have expressed opposition to Hagel. His nomination gained Democratic momentum this week with backing from Sens. Charles Schumer and Barbara Boxer.
If confirmed, Hagel will be the first Vietnam veteran and enlisted man to be defense secretary.
“The idea that he's been an enlisted man, a decorated Vietnam veteran, he knows the reality of the life of the ordinary soldier, is a big plus,” King said. “I've heard people dismiss that, say, 'Oh that's no big deal.' I think it is. I think it's a significant piece of what he brings to this position.”
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