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And they have enlisted an array of luminaries to serve as Hagel ambassadors. Thirteen former secretaries of defense and state and national security advisers from both parties sent a letter to senators last week strongly backing his nomination.
Hagel will be introduced at his hearing by two former Senate Armed Services committee chairmen, Democrat Sam Nunn and Republican John Warner, who both - like Hagel - were known for breaking from party doctrine on a range of issues.
Hagel has set up a Pentagon office and has a transition team helping him to prepare. He has met with Panetta, deputy defense secretary Ashton Carter and other military leaders, including Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The nominee has had two “murder board” sessions, panels to grill him to prepare for questions from skeptical - and hostile - senators.
A source close to the confirmation process said Hagel may squeeze in a third “murder board” session before Thursday.
Carter, who will stay on as deputy secretary of defense during Obama’s second term, told reporters at the Pentagon on Friday that Obama had called him to tell him about the Hagel nomination and asked him to remain, which would provide a measure of stability.
Critics have questioned Hagel’s past statements over the power of the “Jewish lobby” in Washington, and what they say is his resistance to sanctions on Iran and eagerness to further cut defense spending. No Republican has yet publicly endorsed him.
Hagel is expected to have a tougher time with the Armed Services Committee, which must clear his nomination, than in the full 100-member Senate, where Republicans hold 45 seats.