Why isn’t the Senate Armed Services Committee doing its job?

Barack Obama and Chuck Hagel

President Obama with defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

This post has been updated.

Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearing is set for Jan. 31. So far there is near unanimity among Republicans to oppose him. The White House’s water carriers on the Democratic side of the aisle, in particular, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), have dutifully lined up, but a surprising number of Democrats are still wary. On Sunday Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said he still had concerns.

However, there is a more fundamental issue that should concern all Democrats and Republicans on the committee. There has been as of this writing no vetting — not even a look at — Hagel’s finances. This is why the American Future Fund is calling for a delay. In a statement the conservative group asserted:

Chuck Hagel’s nomination was formally submitted to the Senate on Tuesday, January 22. According to the rules, he has five days to submit his financial disclosures which means they might receive it next Monday or Tuesday, giving the committee only a day or two for review in advance of Thursday’s hearing.

 

Since leaving the US Senate, Hagel’s livelihood has become intermingled with defense contractors and overseas investments. And questions remain about his past ethics lapses and positions with regard to radical Iran. If confirmed, Hagel is in a position to control significant parts of the defense budget. The Senate committee has a moral and legal obligation to carefully review the background of a person nominated for any cabinet post. These circumstances call for a close examination which cannot possibly be accomplished in one or two days.

Frankly, the lackadaisical attitude toward vetting the nominee is an extreme dereliction of duty by the committee and specifically by chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.). This is a major appointment for an administration that has repeatedly put up nominees with tax issues (Tim Geithner), financial conflicts (Tom Daschle) and lobbying connections (despite promises not to). In terms of dollars, the Defense Department is the largest federal contractor, and the problem of fraud, waste and abuse in the contracting process is front and center in the debate over the defense budget. There can be no question, then, that this critically important information in determining Hagel’s fitness to serve.

Aside from the fact all nominees need to go through this process, concerns have already been raised about Hagel Vanguard Cellular Systems Inc., which Hagel co-founded; Deutsche Bank’s involvement in the Libor fraud and its dealings in Iran (Hagel is on its board); and the Atlantic Council (of which Hagel was chairman), which receives funding from foreign governments and defense contractors (and also has as its vice chairman Chas Freeman, who has a long, sorry record on China and Israel and recently called Jews a “fifth column”). The committee should be taking its obligations seriously — to vet finances, listen to those who worked with and for Hagel, and properly prepare for the hearing.

As for Republicans, they should carefully consider all of this data and Hagel’s long record and well-established views. They should insist the committee does its homework before getting to the hearing.

Aside from sequestration (which is likely to go through anyway), it is only confirmation hearings that give the Republican senators the opportunity to probe the administration’s outlook and register their refusal to buy into Obama’s willful ignorance of the dangers we face. Just as House Republicans have drawn a sharp line between their economic outlook and the president’s collectivism, Senate Republicans should aim to draw a distinction between their outlook and the president’s on slashing defense, soft-pedaling the Iranian threat, coddling Russia and China and taking an acrimonious stance toward Israel. In this case, there is no question “what differences does it make” what Hagel’s real views (not the newly concocted ones), temperament, experience and ethical issues may be. This is a critical national security position at a time, as Ted Koppel (not exactly a right-winger) put it, when we are “entering one of the most dangerous periods this country has ever known.”

With a nominee as extreme as Hagel (even to the left of Obama before all the confirmation conversions) this should be an easy vote for Republicans — you are either with a sort of Ron-Paul-meets-Dennis-Kucinich view of the world or you’re not. There’s no blurring the difference on this one. And they would be well-advised to ask more probing questions, better coordinate on lines of questioning, and come better prepared than many on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee in the Benghazi hearing who were apparently under the impression one can just show up for work on the day of a major confirmation fight with no game plan.

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