Hagel continues his wooing of lawmakers on Capitol Hill

Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel

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WASHINGTON — Chuck Hagel was walking through one of the Capitol's basement tunnels early Wednesday when he bumped into newly sworn-in Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

“We were just talking about you,” Warren told him.

“Everybody's been talking about me,” Hagel said, laughing.

Hagel has been crisscrossing Capitol Hill this week, running through a marathon of one-on-one meetings with senators. It's part of an aggressive outreach campaign to line up support for his nomination as defense secretary.

A White House aide estimated Hagel will meet with more than 50 senators before his Jan. 31 confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee. That included about 10 meetings on Wednesday.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., is one of the committee members who has expressed reservations about the nomination. She and Hagel met Wednesday and had a “frank discussion,” Fischer said, but she withheld a decision on how she'll vote until after the hearing.

“We have to have that public hearing,” Fischer said during her weekly conference call with reporters. “Americans have a right to see a public hearing on any nominee and to see what the questioning is and his responses.”

Photos: Chuck Hagel through the years
See more photos of Hagel, from Nebraska youngster to national statesman.

Fischer said she plans to follow up with Hagel on a few issues before the hearing and added that defense nominees have a higher bar to clear than many others.

“They are, I believe, held to a higher level,” Fischer said.

Hagel served two terms as a Republican senator from Nebraska. He endorsed Fischer's opponent in the November election, Democrat and fellow Vietnam veteran Bob Kerrey.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., received a Hagel visit Wednesday afternoon. Hagel later said that the two had a good conversation during their 45-minute meeting.

Reporters and photographers were allowed in for the first minute or so.

During that time, the two chatted amiably about sports, including Maryland's entry into the Big Ten Conference and the coming Super Bowl between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers.

Cardin joked that his top question was whether Hagel is a Ravens fan.

Hagel, who would appreciate the votes of California's two senators, tried to be diplomatic.

“I'm very glad that Baltimore is getting this opportunity,” he said.

Contact the writer: 202-630-4823, joe.morton@owh.com

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