In picking former senator Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense, the president has picked a qualified, seasoned leader who should be confirmed. That’s not to say that Hagel shouldn’t have to answer for some of his current and past positions. But if we’re going to reverse anything about the partisan culture that has gripped Washington, it can start with the Senate confirmation process. It seems like a new standard on whether or not a senator supports a nominee is if the senator were president, would he nominate this person for the office? That shouldn’t be the question. The question should be whether or not the person is qualified and if there is anything about the nominee’s past or present that truly disqualifies them from serving in office. Hagel shouldn’t be disqualified because some senators disagree with him on this, that or the other position.
In full disclosure, I’ve known Hagel for a long time and have always thought very well of him. It does appear that somewhere along the way in recent years, he has become a Democrat. I wish that weren’t the case. But again, being a Democrat, a liberal Republican or whatever should not disqualify him. Hagel is a strong personality, but the policies that he would pursue as secretary of defense will be those of President Obama, and I can’t blame Obama for wanting someone at the Pentagon who he thinks will be effective in promoting his defense priorities.
I won’t get into what Hagel said or may have meant in some of his past comments or positions on issues he’s currently being criticized for, including on Israel and Iran. That’s what the confirmation process is for. If I know Hagel, he will freely and honestly share his views with his former colleagues in the Senate. But even if those views are disagreeable to me and others, it doesn’t make him unqualified to serve.
Also, the appointment of John Brennan as director of the CIA appears to be one that probably doesn’t warrant much opposition. By all accounts, he is a distinguished, committed public servant who is particularly well-qualified to meet the challenges of the CIA. But like with all nominees, he should face intense questioning. And as with Hagel, disagreeing with Brennan on one or several issues doesn’t make him unqualified for the job.
I believe the GOP must provide robust opposition to Obama — but not opposition for opposition’s sake. It makes us look small and further damages the Republican brand. All nominees should face intense but fair scrutiny, and the vote to confirm or not should be based on whether or not the nominee is qualified — not on how close he or she is to the point of view of the party that lost the last election.
Elections have consequences. The president should be able to pick his team. In fact, rather than just having a more bipartisan spirit, I could be in favor of legislation and new rules that would expedite the nomination process. It’s getting harder and harder to get good people to serve in government. And the modern Senate confirmation process has become little more than having to spend time in a dunking booth, having any past utterance exaggerated, inflamed and distorted, having your character besmirched and generally being flogged in public. The status quo is not serving either party very well.