The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold its vote today on the confirmation of Chuck Hagel, after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — in the sort of self-serving, “comity of the Senate” gibberish that drives conservatives to distraction — declared he wouldn’t stall the nomination. (You have to wonder why getting along with Democratic senators takes priority over keeping a dullard from becoming defense secretary.) That deals a setback to the prospects for delaying confirmation, undercutting the work of a number of senators straining to prevent Hagel’s confirmation.
However, the notion that Republican senators have asked for unprecedented amounts of information is belied by the experience of Republican nominees, including John Bolton. Moreover, the Hill ran an op-ed by Will Bennett, board member for the anti-Hagel Americans for a Strong Defense, that reminds us:
Cloture was attempted successfully to end filibusters of the nominations of: Dirk Kempthorne for secretary of the Interior in 2006; Robert J. Portman for U.S. Trade Representative in 2005; Stephen L. Johnson for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2005; Michael O. Leavitt for EPA Administrator in 2003; and C. William Verity for secretary of Commerce in 1987. Every one of these nominees were chosen by Republican administrations and primary support for each filibuster came from Democrats in the Senate including, in some cases, current President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State Kerry and former Secretary of State Clinton.
Further, a cloture attempt was withdrawn to end a filibuster of Hilda Solis, outgoing Secretary of Labor in the Obama Administration. And by unanimous consent, the Senate agreed to a 60-vote threshold (the same as required to overcome a filibuster) for confirmation of two other Obama Administration cabinet nominees – Kathleen Sebelius for secretary of Health and Human Services and John Bryson for secretary of Commerce.
So, coming back to the question of whether to filibuster the Hagel nomination, we see that not only are filibusters of cabinet-level nominees not unprecedented, there are several such precedents
This morning the Senate Republican Steering Committee is also circulating a memo detailing previous Democratic objections — including those from Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and former Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Biden (D-Del.) — to nominees for failure to provide relevant material and threatening to filibuster unless the nominee forked over required data. In sum, Republicans are not done yet fighting for a 60-vote threshold.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) has vowed to put a “hold” on the nomination. A fight on the floor still awaits. However, unless Democrats in the Senate get a pang of conscience or Republicans’ spines stiffen, Hagel may be confirmed as early as Thursday. The president and the Democratic senators seem oblivious to the fact that they will pay a heavy price if, for example, a Benghazi incident happens on Hagel’s watch. While the public might accept that there was nothing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta could have done to prevent the death of Americans, few would believe that of Hagel if, God forbid, tragedy strikes again. Moreover, Hagel’s ascendancy would signal to the Iranians and the Israelis, our unseriousness about the military option to stop Iran from going nuclear. It may have already emboldened the North Koreans.
So what have we learned so far from the Hagel episode?
1. Despite liberal whining, the GOP is not the obstructionist party. Is there any doubt that if the roles were reversed the Democrats would filibuster? They filibustered Bolton for the United Nations for trivial reasons, you will recall. On the GOP side, however, the desire to go along to get along still motivates many old-timers like McCain.
2. Because Hagel proved himself to be so shaky and disclaimed any interest in running things or in making policy, Hagel would be severely hamstrung if confirmed. His lack of smarts and communication skills would make it impossible for him to be a key player, an international interlocutor and a prominent voice in the administration. That’s the good news; the bad news is the White House political hacks will reign supreme when it comes to the Pentagon.
3. Hagel wound up humiliating not only himself but also the president who picked him, the senators who dutifully line up behind him and the left-wing anti-Israel crowd that backed him. For Democratic senators contemplating the presidency someday (don’t they all?) they’ll have one big strike against them as a potential commander in chief — support for the hapless Hagel. For the left wing it is disappointing, certainly, to see that someone so ignorant and inept is the best they can do in staffing up the second Obama term.
4. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who assured us that Hagel was just fine, has been revealed (or confirmed, for those who suspected) to be foolish, hardly the self-styled serious foreign policy guru or defender of Israel he claims to be.
5. Secretary of State John Kerry is going to go to a lot of AIPAC conferences; he’s likely to be the only administration official/designee of the president whose presence wouldn’t be seen as an affront to the pro-Israel community.
6. The major Jewish organizations once again proved themselves to be timid mice, afraid of losing access to the White House and opposing the administration openly on the most anti-Israel defense secretary ever nominated. You wonder how/why they stay in business. (The major exceptions were the conservative Emergency Committee for Israel, the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Wiesenthal Center). Most egregiously, the National Jewish Democratic Council, which vociferously opposed Hagel when he was in the GOP camp, backed the nomination. There’s a group that now fails the straight-face test, losing any semblance of intellectual honesty.
7. The “no” vote total for Hagel will likely set a record for any secretary of defense nominee with the exception of the defeated John Tower. It is a rarity to have a top national security nominee be such a divisive figure whose hearing inspired so little confidence.
8. There is only one party in which resolute support for a strong national defense, repudiation of anti-Semitic language and affection for the state of Israel are all preconditions for national office. No one of Hagel’s ilk would ever be nominated by a GOP president, let alone confirmed by the Senate.
9. If you want media bias, you need look no further than the Hagel nomination. If it were a Republican administration, both news and editorial writers in the mainstream media would have ripped Hagel to shreds, declaring that a Republican president who would want him is negligent with regard to foreign policy and indifferent to his noxious language. No one in a GOP administration so dim would survive the media onslaught.
10. The price of getting the job for Hagel was to repudiate nearly every national security position and rhetorical device that made him a favorite of left-wing, anti-Israel advocates. It must be distressing for them to see that their views are still so unacceptable that a nominee must undergo serial confirmation conversions to get into office. Americans should be distressed that Democrats who claim to be strong on defense play along with this charade.