BOSTON — 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 said he was scheduled to meet privately with Hagel on Friday, but a King spokesman says the meeting has been moved to next week.

Hagel did meet Thursday with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Leahy had previously expressed his support for the nominee. In a statement, he called Hagel "superb and highly qualified."

"I know his sense of integrity and his great knowledge of our defense and foreign policies," Leahy said. "He knows about national defense from the ground up and from his own deeply personal experience – he still carries the wounds of war. The fact that he would be the first enlisted service member to head the Pentagon is significant, and it is timely."

A handful of Republicans have expressed their opposition to Hagel, a Republican who served two terms as a 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 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."

Earlier on HuffPost:

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  • Chuck Hagel (February 2013 - Present)

    New Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is greeted as he arrives for his first day at the Department of Defense, on February 27, 2013 in Arlington, Va. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

  • Leon Panetta (July 2011 - February 2013)

    Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta pauses while speaking during a ceremonial swearing-in at the Department of Defense July 22, 2011 in Washington. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Robert Gates (Dec. 2006 - July 2011)

    Robert Gates speaks during his ceremonial swearing in as the 22nd defense secretary on Dec. 18, 2006 at the Pentagon. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Donald Rumsfeld (Jan. 2001 - Dec. 2006)

    U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld holds his press conference at the Pentagon briefing room on Jan. 26, 2001 in Arlington, Va. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • William Cohen (Jan. 1997 - Jan. 2001)

    Secretary of Defense designate William Cohen testifies during confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 22, 1997 in Washington. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • William Perry (Feb. 1994 - Jan. 1997)

    U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry points to a reporter during a press conference on April 21, 1994 in Seoul, Korea. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Les Aspin (Jan. 1993 - Feb. 1994)

    U.S. Secretary of Defense Les Aspin released new regulations governing gays in the military during a press on Dec. 22, 1993 at the Pentagon. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Dick Cheney (March 1989 - Jan. 1993)

    U.S. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney (L) meets Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, on April 3, 1989, at Washington. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Frank Carlucci (Nov. 1987 - Jan. 1989)

    U.S. Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 13, 1988 in Washington. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Caspar Weinberger (Jan. 1981 - Nov. 1987)

    Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense on Feb. 9, 1981. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Harold Brown (Jan. 1977 - Jan. 1981)

    General Alexander M. Haig, right, retired as NATO commander, walks with Defense Secretary Harold Brown during an awards ceremony on July 3, 1979 at Fort Myer, Va. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Donald Rumsfeld (Nov. 1975 - Jan. 1977)

    A 1976 photo of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • James Schlesinger (July 1973 - Nov. 1975)

    Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, left, with Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger, chats on Friday, Jan. 5, 1974 at the Pentagon. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Elliot Richardson (Jan. 1973 - May 1973)

    Elliot L. Richardson speaks to newsmen Oct. 23, 1973 at a press conference held at the Department of Justice. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Melvin Laird (Jan. 1969 - Jan. 1973)

    Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird as he departed from Andrews Air Force Base Md., for Paris on Jan. 5, 1971 in Washington. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Clark Clifford (March 1968 - Jan. 1969)

    This is an Oct. 1968 photo of Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford as he announces his support for President Johnson's decision to halt the bombing of North Vietnam. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Robert McNamara (Jan. 1961 - Feb. 1968)

    PARIS, FRANCE: US Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara smiles as he arrives 27 November 1965 at Paris' NATO headquarters. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Thomas Gates (Dec. 1959 - Jan. 1961)

    Secretary of Defense Thomas S. Gates Jr., center, poses with Benjamin M. McKelway, left, editor of the Washington Evening Star and President of the AP, and AP General Manager Frank J. Starzel at the April 25, 1960 meeting of the Associated Press in New York. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Neil McElroy (Oct. 1957 - Dec. 1959)

    Defense Secretary Neil McElroy said he has "fullest confidence that the United States is ahead of the Soviets..." prior to the announcement of the Soviet's achievement in launching the first earth satellite, Oct. 4, 1958. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Charles Wilson (Jan. 1953 - Oct. 1957)

    Charles E. Wilson, left, takes the oath of office from Chief Justice Fred Vinson at the White House in Washington on Dec. 21, 1950 as head of the office of Defense Mobilization. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Robert Lovett (Sept. 1951 - Jan. 1953)

    Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower (right) watches President Harry S. Truman and Gen. Omar Bradley help Defense Secretary Robert Lovett (left) get in place as the men posed on the south lawn of the White House on June 1, 1952 in Washington. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • George Marshall (Sept. 1950 - Sept. 1951)

    Anna M. Rosenberg, New York Labor and Public Relations consultant, who is named assistant secretary of defense, chats with Secretary of Defense George Marshall in a conference at the Pentagon on Nov. 9, 1950 in Arlington, Va. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • Louis Johnson (March 1949 - Sept. 1950)

    Defense Secretary Louis Johnson (right) gives new identification card to President Harry Truman at the White House on Nov. 9, 1949 in Washington, listing him as commander in chief for an "indefinite" term. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)

  • James Forrestal (Sept. 1947 - March 1949)

    James V. Forrestal, Secretary of Defense under President Harry Truman, is shown on July 26, 1947. (Source: <a href="http://www.defense.gov/specials/secdef_histories/">Department of Defense</a>)