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Maine Sen. King: No strong reason to oppose Hagel

FILE – This Jan. 7, 2013 file photo shows former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, president Barack Obama’s choice for defense secretary, speaking in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Maine Sen. Angus King said Thursday that he sees no strong reason to oppose President Barack Obama’s pick for secretary of defense. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

FILE – This Jan. 7, 2013 file photo shows former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, president Barack Obama’s choice for defense secretary, speaking in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Maine Sen. Angus King said Thursday that he sees no strong reason to oppose President Barack Obama’s pick for secretary of defense. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

FILE – This Nov. 13, 2012 file photo shows then-Sen.-elect Angus King, I-Maine on Capitol Hill in Washington. King said Thursday that he sees no strong reason to oppose President Barack Obama’s pick for secretary of defense. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

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BOSTON (AP) — Maine Sen. Angus King said Thursday that he sees no strong reason to oppose President Barack Obama’s pick for secretary of defense.

The newly elected senator, an independent, said in an interview with The Associated Press that he won’t make a final decision on former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination until confirmation hearings are finished. King serves as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing on Jan. 31.

“I start with a presumption that the president should be able to appoint his own people to his cabinet. So unless there’s some strong disqualifying element or quality to the nominee, I start with that positive presumption,” King said.

Asked whether he saw a strong disqualifying element or quality with Hagel, King said, “No.”

“But I want to see what the testimony is at the hearing and have a chance to talk to him directly,” he added.

King is scheduled to meet privately with Hagel on Friday.

A handful of Republicans have expressed their opposition to Hagel, a Republican who served two terms as senator from Nebraska. His nomination gained some Democratic momentum this week with the backing of Sens. Chuck Schumer and Barbara Boxer, but the opposition of the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, was a blow.

If confirmed, Hagel would be the first Vietnam veteran and enlisted man to serve as the secretary of defense.

“The idea that he’s been an enlisted man, a decorated Vietnam veteran, he knows the reality of the life of the ordinary soldier is a big plus,” King said. “I’ve heard people dismiss that, say, ‘Oh that’s no big deal.’ I think it is. I think it’s a significant piece of what he brings to this position.”

Associated Press