February 15, 2013

The notion that the Senate owes some deference to the president with regard to nominees is qualified by two considerations. First, the advice and consent requirement of the Constitution must mean something, for otherwise the president could simply appoint whomever he wanted. And second, the deference assumes the president in good faith believes his nominee is the best person for the job. However, when the latter is admittedly not the case then no deference is owed. Indeed, there is an obligation to block an unqualified nominee.

Chuck Hagel (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Chuck Hagel (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

The liberals and uninformed mainstream reporters (but I repeat myself) have gotten into the habit of calling the hold-up in Chuck Hagel’s confirmation unprecedented. That is factually wrong.

But what is unprecedented is to appoint a high national security official because the president is peeved about someone else. Politico reports:

The president feels personally invested in the nomination of Hagel. The Nebraska Republican is one of the few politicians he’s truly friendly with, and Obama plans to see the fight through, barring some major unforeseen development. Democrats close to the White House say the typically cool-headed Obama has expressed flashes of real anger at what he sees as a politically motivated GOP fishing expedition that already netted his first choice for secretary of state — U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice.

 

Obama — ticked off by Rice’s treatment and still emboldened by his convincing victory over Mitt Romney — courted confrontation when he tapped Hagel.

If true, this is outlandish. The president would imperil national security out of spite? The lions may be lying down with lambs today, but on this Jonathan Chait is dead on: “I would argue that, if you’re really upset at the unfair attacks on Susan Rice, then nominate Susan Rice. Picking a fight on some other candidate is a pretty strange way of defending Susan Rice’s reputation.” It is also a darn irresponsible move considering the national security challenges we face.

Whatever rationale there was for Hagel has evaporated now that we know he has a habit of saying many odd and offensive things, can’t stick to talking points and has managed to irritate half the Senate. Politico quotes defense analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute as saying, “Hagel has alienated so many people in his own Republican Party that reaching across the aisle would be a challenge. … It raises questions about whether he will be able to implement any major changes at the Pentagon, given how narrow his base of support on the Hill seems to be.”

If the Hagel nomination is in a “fiasco” and Hagel is turning out to be much worse and much dumber than the White House expected, then why don’t the Senate Democrats spare the country and vote against him? The idea that they are sparing the White House embarrassment by voting for Hagel is absurd; they are extending the embarrassment that Hagel wrought.

I don’t agree that the GOP would “better off with the wounded Hagel in office than they are actually filibustering his nomination to death.” And in literally hundreds of conversations with Senate staffers and senators over the last few weeks none has even hinted at this calculation. They genuinely believe Hagel is an awful nominee. So do some Democrats. So why don’t a few Senate Dems  — even one would open the floodgates, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is convinced — say, “Enough. We’ve had it.”? Really, the Democrats have an independent responsibility to the country not to rubber stamp a nominee as lame as this one, especially when they would merely be facilitating the president’s temper tantrum.

And if the Democrats won’t do the right thing, then Republicans have zero reason to lift the 60 vote requirement. What could possibly be the rationale for allowing the president to foist an unfit nominee on the U.S. military because he’s bent out of shape over another person he didn’t bother to fight for? There is none, and any Republican’s decision to switch his or her vote on cloture would defy logic and political common sense.

UPDATE: Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) have written to Chuck Hagel asking if he made the comment at Rutgers University in 2008 (or anywhere else) reported yesterday that our State Department is an “adjunct” of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and, if so, what that means and whether it reflects his views. It is remarkable that Hagel has not yet denied the report. Perhaps he doesn’t recall, or perhaps he’s afraid to answer for fear a tape contradicting his recollection will show up. Either way, so long as he will not address this alleged statement, more outrageous and inappropriate than anything we’ve heard so far, how can senators vote on his confirmation? The letter is here.

UPDATE II: Now the liberal American Jewish Committee is asking for more debate in the Senate because “reports are now circulating that the nominee purportedly spoke derisively in recent years of U.S. policy-making regarding Israel and the vital U.S.-Israel relationship. Thus, we feel it especially important that Senator Hagel be given a full opportunity to clear the air, so that the Senate can have a more thorough picture of the nominee’s views.” This alleged remark can no longer be dismissed as conservative issue, but is now a mainstream, publicly-voiced concern in the Jewish community.

 

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.