Sen. Jeanne Shaheen announced Thursday she will support the confirmation of Republican former Sen. Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, calling him "an independent leader" who "thoroughly understands the complexity of the modern security environment."
The New Hampshire Democrat made the announcement following a meeting with Hagel in her Washington office.
Shaheen is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is expected to hold a confirmation hearing next week on Hagel, President Barack Obama's choice to succeed Leon Panetta as the nation's top defense official.
New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte also serves on the armed services committee. While expressing concern about Hagel's positions on some issues, including Israel and Iran, Ayotte said she will wait until after the hearing to decide whether to support him.
Shaheen said that after meeting with Hagel, she "was pleased with his strong, unwavering support of Israel, his steadfast opposition to Iran's nuclear weapons program and his commitment to building relationships with our allies including NATO.
"I also appreciated Senator Hagel's recognition of the role New Hampshire plays in our national defense. From the direct roles Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Pease Air National Guard Base play in our ongoing military operations, to the quality of services provided to returning service members through the Deployment Cycle Support program, to our cutting-edge defense industrial base, I underscored New Hampshire's leadership role in efficient and effective support of our Armed Forces, which he readily acknowledged."
She said she was also encouraged by his "willingness to address remaining inequalities faced by female service members and LGBT military families."
Shaheen said Hagel he told her he would implement the provisions of the Shaheen Amendment, which provides women in the military insurance coverage for abortion in cases of rape or incest and was recently signed into law by Obama.
She said he told her he would "push for the elimination of restrictions on LGBT military family benefits, an issue that has been highlighted in New Hampshire by the service of Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan," a terminally ill lesbian whose wife would not receive survivor benefits under provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Shaheen called Hagel "a strong, independent leader uniquely qualified to serve as our next Secretary of Defense, and I think that is evidenced by the amount of bipartisan support he has received in recent weeks."
Ayotte and Hagel met on Wednesday. After the meeting, Ayotte said, "I continue to have concerns about some of his previous positions. However, I look forward to learning more about his views during next week's confirmation hearing. I will reserve judgment on his nomination until after that hearing."