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Confirmation hearings begin for Chuck Hagel
A tough confirmation process is underway for the president's pick for Secretary of Defense - former Nebraska U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel.
Hagel spent hours in the hot seat Thursday answering questions from the senate armed services committee.
Questions about his controversial positions on the war in Iraq, sanctions against Iran, and his past comments about Israel.
Early on senators made it clear their examination of the former senator from Nebraska would not be quick or easy.
Chuck Hagel grappled with senators over whether he was wrong opposing the 2007 surge in Iraq.
"Were you correct or incorrect when you said that the surge would be the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam?" said Sen. John McCain / (R) Arizona
"I'm not going to give you a yes or no. It's far more complicated than that," said Hagel.
Hagel's record as a senator caused frequent concern. In 2001 he voted against sanctions on Iran to stop the country from obtaining nuclear weapons.
"Do you support sanctions against Iran?" said Senator Claire McCaskill / (D) Missouri.
"Yes," said Hagel.
Hagel said he's now open to all options.
"I am fully committed to the President's goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Hagel said.
Hagel defended his position on U.S. stockpiles of nuclear weapons.
He previously co-authored a report calling for cuts.
"A strong agile secure safe arsenal of nuclear weapons in the U.S. is not debatable," said Hagel.
Hagel promised to support the rights of gays in the military.
He also apologized for offensive comments he made accusing lobbyists for Israel of intimidating lawmakers. As defense secretary he'd work closely with the strong U.S. ally as it faces threats in the Middle East.
"You said the term Jewish lobby. Name someone who has been pressured from Israeli Lobby," said Sen. Lindsey Graham / (R) South Carolina.
"I have said I regret the terminology," said Hagel.
"But you said back then - it makes us do do dumb things," Graham said.
If confirmed, Hagel would be the lone Republican in Obama's cabinet. Also the first Vietnam veteran in the position. His supporters argue that experience makes him uniquely qualified.
It's likely every senate Democrat will support Hagel's confirmation. So far he has the support of one Republican. But Hagel will need four more Republicans in his camp to prevent a filibuster.
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