(CNN) - When former Sen. Chuck Hagel appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, don’t expect him to dwell on controversial statements from his past. Instead, allies say, he’ll focus on the present.
He will testify that if confirmed to be the next Secretary of Defense, he will be fully supportive of the president’s policies, including a preference for diplomacy but a willingness to use force, an Obama administration official working on the senator’s confirmation hearing told CNN.
Hagel has been slammed for his past opposition to unilateral sanctions against Iran, and critics have questioned his support for Israel. This official says Hagel will testify Thursday morning that he believes Iran is a state sponsor of terror; he supports the president’s sanctions strategy against Iran and believes all options should be on the table including the military option. He’ll also testify that it’s his view that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization.
In his opening statement to the committee, this source said, expect him to address issues related to military integration and troop safety, including “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” women in combat, sexual assault in the military and military suicide.
He will also go on record expressing his view that the across-the-board budget cuts set to soon kick in, known as the sequester, must be prevented.
If confirmed, Hagel will be the first enlisted man and Vietnam veteran to serve as Secretary of Defense. He was an Army Sergeant in the Vietnam War. Expect him to emphasize that this experience will make him sensitive to the needs of combat troops as the U.S. continues to withdraw from Afghanistan.
On the eve of his hearing, Hagel received the endorsement of seven prominent veterans groups, including Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. In its letter of endorsement, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said of Hagel, "As a former enlisted soldier, Senator Hagel understands the challenges our troops and veterans face on a deeply personal level.”
Hagel will be introduced by Sens. John Warner and Sam Nunn, a Republican and a Democrat who are former chairs of the committee. They’re also personal friends of the former senator from Nebraska.
Among those planning to attend the hearing are Hagel’s two brothers – Tom, who was wounded in Vietnam, and Michael, an artist whose portrait of President Dwight Eisenhower reportedly hangs in Hagel’s temporary office in the Pentagon. The choice of Eisenhower is meaningful, since both President Obama and his nominee are said to have studied Eisenhower’s experience withdrawing from Korea and facing a new enemy in the Soviet Union as a model for their own challenges.
In preparation for the hearing, sources said, Hagel endured three “murder boards” in which staff peppered the nominee with questions simulating a confirmation hearing. He also he met with 60 senators and has appointments to meet with more next week. One administration official said he extended invitations to meet with all 100 Senators.
To date only one Republican senator has endorsed his confirmation. The office of Sen. Thad Cochran confirmed to CNN the Mississippi lawmaker plans to vote to confirm Hagel.
In a questionnaire he submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee before the hearing, Hagel gave a full throated endorsement of the President’s Iran policy saying in part, “I believe that this strategy has made it clear to Iran that the United States will do what it must to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and I will continue to implement this policy if confirmed.”
He also made clear he opposes arming Syrian rebels, writing “I do not believe that providing lethal support to the armed opposition at this time will alleviate the horrible situation we see in Syria.”
This will be the first time Hagel will answer questions publicly since his nomination was announced.
- White House Producer Gabriella Schwarz contributed to this story.