Chuck Hagel, US President Barack Obama's nominee to become the next defense
secretary, will face his Senate confirmation hearing on January 31, a Senate
panel said on Wednesday.
The Senate Armed Services Committee announcement
came a day after Hagel's nomination won critical support from two leading
pro-Israel Senate Democrats, who said he had eased their concerns over his
positions on Israel, Iran and other issues.
Obama nominated Hagel on
January 7 to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. The nomination
provoked stiff opposition from some Republican legislators and conservative
Hagel, a senator from Nebraska from 1997 to 2009 and a
decorated Vietnam War veteran, split from his fellow Republicans by opposing the
U.S.-led war against Iraq and was rumored to be a possible Obama pick for vice
president in 2008.
Even some Democrats have expressed concern over issues
including positions Hagel has taken in the past on Iran sanctions and concerns
he is not a strong supporter of the Jewish state.
Hagel has been calling
and meeting with senators to discuss their concerns before his hearing, but a
handful of Republicans, including some on the Armed Services Committee, have
said they oppose his appointment.
The Senate will vote on Hagel's
nomination after his confirmation hearing before the committee. Democrats
control 55 seats in the Senate. Hagel would need 60 votes - not just a simple
majority - to clear potential Republican procedural hurdles and be confirmed.