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January 12. 2013 11:31PM

Hagel finds surprise support in Gregg for Cabinet post

While many Senate Republicans are lining up to oppose one of their own as secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel has found a friend in a former colleague.

Judd Gregg told the New Hampshire Sunday News that although he has disagreed with former Sen. Hagel's views, the Nebraskan is "certainly qualified" for the Cabinet post.

In an interview, the former New Hampshire senator and governor predicted Hagel will ultimately be confirmed by the Senate, as will Jack Lew, President Barack Obama's chief of staff and choice for secretary of the Treasury.

Gregg said while "a lot of people are attacking Hagel for the views he took as a senator, the fact is that as a senator, he was his own person, and as secretary of defense, he'd work for the President.

"His job will be to be 100 percent with the President 100 percent of the time," Gregg said. "That's what Cabinet members do."

Gregg called Hagel experienced and smart and noted he would be the first enlisted man to head the Pentagon.

"That's pretty impressive in and of itself," he said.

Hagel "thinks outside the box" and "doesn't subscribe to conventional wisdom" on defense spending, said Gregg.

"The department will go through a very serious period of adjustment as budget pressures come down on it and as we move away from a boots-on-the-ground approach to fighting terrorism.

"You're going to need a defense secretary willing to get outside 'defense-speak' and get outside of the Pentagon and think about creative ways to make the Defense Department more effective and efficient with less resources."

Many Senate Republicans are frowning on Hagel's past criticisms of Israel, his opposition to the "surge" during the Iraq war and his opposition to sanctions against Iran.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has said Hagel would be "the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward the state of Israel in our nation's history."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has voiced concern about Hagel's view of the United States' "role in the world, particularly in the Middle East, and whether we should reduce the Pentagon further, but mainly, his general, overall world view."

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said she was "concerned" by his "long-standing opposition to increased Iran sanctions and his views" on Hezbollah, Hamas and Israel.

Graham, McCain and Ayotte are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will conduct confirmation hearings on Hagel.

Meanwhile, New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said last week it is "disappointing" Obama has nominated four white men and no women or minority Americans to any of the major Cabinet posts he recently addressed.

She said she has serious questions for Hagel on Israel and how he would implement her amendment to allow service women who are victims of rape or incest to receive coverage for abortions. But she also praised him as a "voice of principle and pragmatism" while in the Senate.

Gregg said Hagel "has said some things which I totally disagreed with. He said some things which I marginally disagreed with. He said some things which I agreed with."

"But that's not relevant," said Gregg. "It's whether he's qualified to be secretary of defense, and he is.

"And I actually think because of his willingness to break china and step outside the box that he's going to be good for the Pentagon," Gregg said.

"The President has the right to (fill) his Cabinet with people he wants as long as they have integrity and maintain the experience necessary to do the job and morally have not compromised themselves."

Gregg said he has known Hagel since Hagel joined the Senate in 1997. Although Gregg said they "were not close friends," he said the two worked together on issues and "I respect him a great deal."

Obama in 2009 nominated Gregg to be his commerce secretary. Gregg initially accepted, but later asked Obama to withdraw his nomination, saying he began to doubt whether he could be "an effective team player."

Gregg also had no objection to Treasury nominee Lew, whom he called "a tough guy, very aggressive in his positions."

"He's always been a staffer, so he's always carried someone else's water. He's very close to the President as chief of staff and will carry the President's positions in a very aggressive way," Gregg said.

"If he has a weakness, it's that he does not have international stature. You need to be able to walk into a room in China and Europe and have people turn their heads and say, 'That's the secretary of the Treasury, and we've got to listen to what he says.'

"But he'll gain that by being the secretary," he said.

Neither Shaheen nor Ayotte had any comment on Lew on Friday, according to their spokesmen.


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