Nothing about the Chuck Hagel nomination has made much sense. The president chose someone who isn’t bright, doesn’t have executive experience, has a litany of bizarre and troubling statements, carries a problematic voting record and was not particularly liked by his former Senate colleagues. Then, rather than answer questions, Hagel gave an appalling performance that made him and the president seem lackadaisical about our Pentagon. Oh, and Hagel admitted he couldn’t or wouldn’t do the job (which involves “running things” and policymaking).
After all that, the day before the nomination the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, Michigan Sen. Carl Levin delayed the vote as 25 Republicans demanded Hagel respond to some fairly ordinary requests (who paid for his speeches, who funded his organizations, whether his investments entailed foreign funding). Hagel won’t even provide a complete list of his speeches in the last five years for which he received more than $5,000. Some of this information must have been included in Hagel’s tax returns (for example, from whom he received speech fees and how much he received), and in other cases he certainly could go back to the entities at issue to request the information be provided for inspection by the chairman and ranking member. Instead, Hagel asserted a fiduciary duty to refuse to provide much of the data!
This is, to put it mildly, weird. The Senate doesn’t have relevant financial data and Hagel does, but Hagel won’t give it up in order to get to a vote from the committee. There are tax statutes and foreign-lobbying requirements at issue, and yet the Senate has no way of knowing if he complied with all of these, let alone whether the donors and investors are problematic. Hagel is an odd and arrogant duck, as we saw in the hearing, but this conduct defies common sense unless there is something disqualifying in the data that he is refusing to provide.
Even odder is the behavior of the White House and the Senate Democrats. And I am not even referring to the selection itself and the Democratic senators’ willingness to support such a dim nominee. Why hasn’t the White House told him to provide the information? (Or did it tell him to provide it and Hagel refused to?) If the Hagel handlers didn’t know what is in that financial data, then they failed to vet him; if they do know and won’t provide it they raise the basic question: Why are they pushing a guy who is so much trouble?
Then there is Levin. He could have forged ahead with the committee vote and reported Hagel out with a party-line vote. (No Democrat on the committee seems inclined to oppose Hagel, no matter how peculiar his behavior and objectionable his record. ) Yet Levin chose to hang up his nomination, subjecting the administration to another round of Sunday shows and giving the opposition more time to solidify. Is he now willing to throw Hagel under the bus?
The White House put up an nominee unfit for the job. And since then he’s behaved at the hearing and in response to very normal document requests like someone who doesn’t really understand the demands made on a secretary of defense nominee. Hagel is acting like he’d rather protect his foreign friends than get the defense job, and the White House and Levin are acting like they would just as soon let him hang himself.
The only people acting reasonably are the Republicans — who see an unfit nominee shown to be a bumbler and trying to hide the ball on his finances. They naturally don’t want to send him to the Pentagon’s top job. Listen, if Hagel doesn’t think he can do the job and doesn’t want to disclose his finances (not to the public but to a closed-door inspection by a limited number of senators), why is he putting the White House and Senate Democrats through this embarrassing ordeal?
Republicans have the high ground, opposing an unfit and uncooperative nominee. They have reaffirmed their strong national security bona fides and found common cause across ideological lines. They would just as soon let this go on for a number of weeks. The question is whether the White House and Hagel would as well.