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WASHINGTON - The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next defense secretary on Jan. 31.
The panel announced the hearing in a statement issued Wednesday.
The committee's chairman, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, has expressed support for Hagel, President Barack Obama's pick to replace Leon Panetta as Pentagon chief.
The panel's top Republican, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, said in a statement late Tuesday that he would oppose the nomination.Inhofe is one of a handful of Republicans who have expressed their opposition to Hagel, a Republican who served two terms as senator from Nebraska.
Hagel has been widely criticized by media pundits and organzations with strong pro-Israel views since his name was first floated as a successor to Panetta.
But Hagel got a significant boost recently when he got the support of Sen. Chuck Shumer of New York and Sen. Barbara Boxer of California., two of the staunchest pro-Israel Democrats.
Schumer and Boxer said Tuesday that they had spoken extensively with Hagel and he had addressed their earlier reservations about whether he was "anti-Israel," too soft on Iran and opposed to gay rights.
"Based on several key assurances provided by Senator Hagel, I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation," Schumer said the day after a 90-minute meeting with Hagel at the White House. "I encourage my Senate colleagues who have shared my previous concerns to also support him."
Boxer expressed her support and urged fellow senators to do the same after receiving a letter from Hagel in which he insisted that he supports Obama's foreign policy positions.
In the letter, the former Nebraska senator also expressed regret for using the term "Jewish lobby" to describe pro-Israel groups, calling it a "very poor choice of words."
Republicans said it was highly unlikely that Schumer and Boxer would have opposed a Democratic president's nominee at the start of Obama's second term. Still, the support of two of the most prominent Jewish members of the Senate is certain to ease concerns among pro-Israel lawmakers and rally noncommittal Democrats to Hagel's side.