Washington (CNN) – With controversial Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel set to face harsh questioning in his confirmation hearing Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden is defending the administration's new foreign policy team against GOP charges that it will be too reluctant to use force–as will the president.
"Where have they (the critics) been for four years?" responded Biden in a recent exclusive interview with CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger. "The real President Obama has exercised force responsibly as boldly and as bravely as any president in American history. This is the guy who's not backed away. And he's also ended wars that almost every military man out there will tell you we should not be engaged in again."
In the CNN interview, the vice president also defended Hagel and Secretary of State Designate John Kerry. "To suggest that two war heroes, one with a Bronze Star…a Purple Heart, Silver Star, taking over both the…State Department and Defense, is a dove or whatever the phrase was, is ridiculous."
Biden is close to both men and has tried to pave the way to confirmation among his former Senate colleagues for the Hagel pick.
Even before the president formally nominated Hagel on January 7, the vice president was speaking to his former senate colleagues on Hagel's behalf. Hagel's record-including a vote against unilateral sanctions against Iran-poses problems on both sides of the aisle.
At this point, the battle over Hagel has morphed into a virtual political campaign.
Administration officials have been helping to mount an aggressive campaign to rebut the critics. Former cabinet secretaries have written letters in support, and a collection of former senior national security officials known as the Bipartisan Group hired the influential lobbying company the Podesta Group to help get its message out, a source familiar with the initiative told CNN. A spokesman for Podesta refused comment.
Hagel himself has met with more than 60 senators to lobby on his behalf and to answer criticisms, according to two sources familiar with the meetings. He also recently met with leading American-Jewish activists to reassure them he is a strong supporter of Israel.
The former senator also did damage control apologizing for some derogatory comments he made in 1998 regarding an openly gay nominee for ambassador. Administration officials reached out to the gay and lesbian community to reassure them.
Critics though have not let up. There are several conservative groups that have run ads against Hagel's nomination, including Americans for a Strong Defense and American Future Fund. AFF has bought more than $500,000 in ads, one of which ran on CNN and Fox News questioning some of his ethics – a charge denied by Hagel aides. A pro-Israel group also went on the airwaves raising questions about his commitment to the Jewish state. The influential Republican Jewish Coalition has marshaled its board members and supporters to lobby senators to vote against Hagel. Among those making those phone calls is influential Republican billionaire and donor Sheldon Adelson. One source familiar with the matter said Adelson is "calling everybody he can."
– CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr and Senior Producer Mike Mount contributed to this story.