Chuck Hagel wrote a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week, saying that he couldn’t possibly respond to senators’ requests for information on speeches, investments and donors to his groups. The Republican committee members are especially concerned with foreign countries and donors from whom Hagel might have received remuneration. Hagel said that he has some fiduciary duty to keep that information from the hands of those he expects to confirm him for a top post. (Or something.) But now, never mind. He’ll go looking for documents.
CBS News reports: “[Sen. Carl] Levin’s strategy, according to those working with Hagel and the White House, is to give Hagel through the coming weekend to comply with GOP document requests. The White House does not expect startling revelations and therefore sees no political threat in document requests.” Umm. Well then why didn’t Hagel turn over these documents a while ago? Who is stalling here — Levin, the White House, Hagel or the Republicans?
Hagel’s could be the most inept and disorganized confirmation effort in recent memory. Hagel showed up either unprepped or revealed he is unpreppable. Then he won’t give over documents — and then he will, he says. One of several things is going on.
It might be that there is a battle between the White House, which wants to prep Hagel and disclose whatever needs to be disclosed, and the nominee, who thinks he’s entitled to the job no matter how awful his hearing performance is or how little information he provides. It could be, however, that there is embarrassing material that the White House and Hagel thought they could keep from the committee, a silly and dangerous assumption. Or it might be that Levin, with or without encouragement from the White House, is letting this nominee hang out there for maybe just one more shoe to drop, thus ridding everyone (especially our troops) of Hagel’s stewardship of the military at a particularly challenging time.
Certainly, the stalling on documents is angering Republican senators. On Thursday, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) tweeted his decision: “After disappointing hearing, unanswered questions, failure to comply with transparency requirements I cannot support Hagel.” If Hagel doesn’t pick up more support than the two already committed Republicans, there will be 43 potential “no” votes from Republican senators. And if Hagel continues to snub the committee (one can imagine him coming back with only a fraction of the requested documents), there would be a real risk of filibuster.
The White House insists that everything is on track. But really? Aside from the fact that the same team promised that Hagel would satisfy all concerns and wow everyone in the hearing, the White House isn’t acting like it has a handle on the process. Hagel and his handlers were clearly surprised by the intensity of the hearing questions, and now they are surprised again that the Republicans are pushing for data on Hagel’s foreign connections.
It does seem the weekend is critical. We will see how vigorously (or not) the White House defends Hagel on the Sunday shows; whether any more Republicans publicly announce their opposition or any Democrats show weakness; and, finally, what documents, if any, Hagel coughs up. The weekend also gives the White House, if so inclined, to come up with a Plan B — a qualified, competent nominee who won’t scare the living daylights out of the Senate.