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After his rough Senate hearing, Chuck Hagel gets a boost from backers

His confirmation hearing performance was universally described as 'lackluster' at best – and far worse by many accounts. But Defense Secretary-nominee Chuck Hagel got some support Sunday, including another Republican backer in the Senate.

By Staff writer / February 3, 2013

Republican Chuck Hagel, President Obama's choice for defense secretary, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday.

Susan Walsh/AP

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After a confirmation hearing performance universally described as “lackluster” at best – and far worse by many accounts – Defense Secretary-nominee Chuck Hagel may be feeling marginally better today.

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He’s picked up two Republican backers in the Senate. There’s no sign – yet, anyway – that any Republicans intend to filibuster the nomination, which would be highly unusual. And the Pentagon’s top two officials – outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey – voiced their support for Hagel on the Sunday TV talk shows.

"In my contacts with the senator, Senator Hagel, in his preparations, I found him to be very thoughtful and very well prepared and very interested,” Gen. Dempsey said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And so if he's confirmed, I'm sure that we'll establish a very close working relationship.”

A former Democratic congressman before heading the CIA and then the Defense Department in the Obama administration, Mr. Panetta took a more political line.

"It's pretty obvious that the political knives were out for Chuck Hagel," Panetta said on NBC’s "Meet the Press."

"What disappointed me is that ... they talked a lot about past quotes, but what about what a secretary of defense is confronting today?" he asked. "What about the war ... in Afghanistan? What about the war on terrorism? What about the budget sequestering [automatic budget cuts] – what impact it's going to have on readiness? What about Middle East turmoil? What about cyber-attacks?"

"All of the issues that confront a secretary of defense, frankly … we just did not see enough time spent on discussing those issues," Panetta said.

THE MONITOR'S VIEW: With Hagel at Defense, what would be America's 'special role'?

Still, former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said on “Meet the Press,” “The disconcerting thing for anybody that watched [Hagel’s confirmation hearing] is he seemed unimpressive and unprepared on the questions that quite frankly he knew was coming.”

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