Gillibrand makes plans for a pre-hearing talk with Hagel

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is scheduled to meet with Chuck Hagel today, as the nominee for defense secretary makes the rounds to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, her spokesman confirmed.

The two spoke briefly after President Obama announced Hagel's nomination, but Gillibrand has officially withheld judgment on the nominee until they could speak in person. The meeting is tentatively planned for this afternoon, but could get postponed due to votes on the Senate floor.

Hagel received his most significant congressional endorsement last week, when Gillibrand's senior colleague, Chuck Schumer, gave his backing to Hagel after a 90-minute meeting at the White House.

Schumer was seen as key to Hagel's prospects, after Republicans and some pro-Israel groups objected to his past positions on sanctions, and his reference to a "Jewish lobby." 

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Gillibrand has expressed similar concerns.

"Considering some of the statements Senator Hagel has made, and votes he has cast, particularly regarding Iran policy, tough questions must and will be asked to clarify his views before these hearings are complete," she said in a statement after his nomination was announced.

Schumer said he pressed Hagel on Iran policy, and a host of other issues, and was satisfied with his responses, but that he planned to watch him "like an eagle" during the confirmation process.

Gillibrand will actually get a chance to question Hagel publicly before Schumer will, thanks to her seat on the Armed Services Committee, which is scheduled to convene hearings on his nomination next week.

UPDATE: After the meeting, Gillibrand issued the following statement, saying she is prepared to support Hagel but will "reserve final judgment" until after the hearing process:

"Senator Hagel and I just had a frank and expansive conversation in my office that explored his record and views on a number of issues that had caused me concern. I am satisfied that his substantive answers were sincere.

“I fully expect that in the upcoming confirmation hearings in the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Hagel’s testimony will reflect a deep commitment to carrying out the Obama administration’s policies of ensuring Israel maintains a qualitative military advantage in the region, rejecting engagement with terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and keeping all options, including additional sanctions and the use of military force, on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran.

“Senator Hagel gave me his clear and direct commitment to advancing issues of equality and fairness in our armed forces – from fully implementing the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” to providing full benefits to families of LGBT servicemembers, ensuring that women servicemembers have access to the full range of reproductive care, cracking down on sexual abuse in the military, stopping hazing, and implementing the opening of full combat roles to female servicemembers.  

“As a member of the Committee, I will reserve final judgment until the hearing process is complete and Senator Hagel has provided his full testimony. However, based on our two personal conversations, I believe that Senator Hagel will faithfully and aggressively carry out the policies of the Obama administration, wants to be held accountable in working with me and my colleagues in implementing those policies in the future, and is well qualified to become the next Secretary of Defense.”