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Kerry defends Hagel nomination in face of GOP criticism; 2 Senate Democrats announce support

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Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., gestures during his confirmation hearing to become the next top diplomat, replacing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Kerry is likely to face friendly questioning on a smooth path to approval before the committee he has served on for 28 years and led for the past four. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)The Associated Press

Two Senate Democrats announced their support Thursday for Republican Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama's choice for defense secretary.

Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Chris Coons of Delaware said they met with Hagel this week, raised concerns about his previous comments on Israel and were reassured by his strong commitment to the Mideast ally.

"Chuck is a combat veteran and foot soldier who has a unique understanding of the challenges faced by our men and women in uniform, and a practical leader who understands the need for common sense in military spending and national security strategy," Manchin said in a statement.

Coons said he believes Hagel "will be a strong and effective secretary of defense, and I will be proud to vote for his confirmation."

Their statements came shortly after Sen. John Kerry, the president's choice for secretary of state, found himself defending Hagel at his confirmation hearing.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker questioned Kerry about Hagel's support for an 80 percent reduction of U.S. nuclear weapons. Possible reductions and modernization of the nuclear arsenal are major issues for the Tennessee lawmaker, who has the Y-12 nuclear facility in his state.

Corker raised serious concerns about Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska.

"I know Chuck Hagel. I think he is a strong patriotic former senator, and he will be a strong secretary of defense," Kerry said of Hagel, who, like Kerry, served in Vietnam.

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