Sen. Mike Johanns said Tuesday his hesitancy in pledging support for the nomination of former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense is based on concern about Hagel's level of commitment to Israel.
"I'm a very, very strong supporter of our relationship with Israel," Johanns said during an interview in Lincoln.
Johanns and Hagel, longtime Republican colleagues, were scheduled to talk by telephone later in the day.
"On a very personal level, this is my friend, a guy who stuck up for me when it was more than appreciated," Johanns said, "and that's something I'll never forget."
"But I want to make sure the secretary of defense is standing side by side with Israel. I view Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations. I see Iran (as a nation) that talks about wiping Israel off the face of the earth."
So, Johanns said, "I need to have Chuck Hagel talk to us about our relationship with Israel and how he would interface with it on important issues."
Hagel and Johanns have a long political relationship that stretches back to 1998, when Hagel, who had been elected to the Senate two years earlier, came to Johanns' defense in the closing days of the Republican gubernatorial primary election.
Hagel publicly chastized Rep. Jon Christensen for a late mailing to GOP voters accusing Johanns, the mayor of Lincoln, of condoning pornography on the city's public TV outlet. Johanns won the nomination and subsequently was elected twice as governor.
Johanns said Hagel is entitled to "a fair, open, respectful hearing," which he said probably will be "very robust."
Sen. Deb Fischer will participate in those hearings as a new member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In the end, Johanns said, he believes Hagel will need to acquire 60 votes to break filibuster opposition rather than gain confirmation by a simple 51-vote Senate majority.