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No excuse to lift the filibuster

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) revealed on “Fox News Sunday” that defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel responded to his letter jointly signed by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) asking  whether he made the reported comment at Rutgers University that the State Department was an adjunct to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. According to Graham’s staff, the letter contained this statement: “I do not recall making any such statement, or ever making any similar statement. I completely disavow the content of the alleged statement attributed to me.”

On “Fox News Sunday” there was this exchange:

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.): Well, on the day of the vote, there was a blog posting about a speech I think in 2007 or 2008 that Chuck Hagel made at Rutgers University, and the blogger was a supporter of Senator Hagel. He was thinking about running for president, and he put on his blog the next day six points of the speech, question-and-answer session. And point six was allegedly Senator Hagel said that the U.S. State Department was an adjunct of the Israeli foreign minister’s office, which I think would be breathtaking if he said that, had such a view.
I got a letter back from Senator Hagel, in response to my question, did you say that and do you believe that? And, the letter says he did not recall saying that. He disavowed that statement.
ANCHOR CHRIS WALLACE: Is that enough for you?
GRAHAM: Well, if in fact that’s true, that would end that matter because he previously said in a book that the Jewish lobby intimidates members of Congress, particularly the U.S. Senate, and makes us — pushes us to make very bad decisions. If the second statement were true, he said, the secretary of state’s office is under the control of the Israeli foreign ministers, those two together, would show … [his]  view of the Israeli-U.S. relationship way out of mainstream.
So, I’ll just take him at his word unless something new comes along.

Whoa. Graham is a good lawyer, good enough to spot Hagel’s dodge. Hagel’s answer is downright bizarre — he can’t recall if he made it, but it’s a terrible thing to have said?! The average senator, I am quite certain, would feel comfortable categorically denying — not simply pleading a poor memory — an egregious statement such as that. However, Hagel draws a blank. And Graham seems to have fallen for it.

Then there was Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who repeated that Hagel is unqualified but  “We will have a vote when we get back, and I am confident that Senator Hagel will probably have the votes necessary to be confirmed.” Huh?

Both McCain and Graham (who termed Hagel “one of the most unqualified, radical choices for secretary of defense in a very long time”) haven’t merely said they disagree with Hagel or that other nominees would be better. They said flat-out that he’s  unfit, uninformed and “radical.” So why in heaven’s name would they help him get confirmed by lifting the filibuster? They cite respect for the president’s “discretion,” but no discretion is owed to confirm someone unfit for the job, who said he couldn’t or wouldn’t do the job.(Hagel denied he’d be a policymaker or would run anything, pleading that it didn’t matter what he thinks.)

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) on CNN’s “State of the Union” put it well:

[I]f anyone saw his testimony, it was very unsettling. It was weak and it was wobbly, and, you know, you want competence and confidence in the person that is going to be secretary of defense. And what we saw was a lot of confusion by this nominee.
So what we’re doing is just asking for some information, a little more time to get some more of the speeches that he’s given, to see what he said, because he says one thing on one day when it’s popular, and then, at another time, says another thing. . . . Well, this is a nomination that’s being rushed through by the Democrats. The hearings were only two weeks ago. The vote in the committee was just last week. There is — really shouldn’t be a rush in something of this importance . . . . I have grave reservations. I think he’s been wrong about Iran, wrong about Israel, wrong in Iraq, wrong with nuclear weapons; absolutely, I plan to vote against him.

All of that said, Republicans are in this fix because Democrats won’t act responsibly. Recall what happened when President George W. Bush nominated the hapless Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. The opposition party was pushing for her, figuring she’d be a dim pushover. But following in-person meetings on Capitol Hill, it was Republicans, unlike Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his Democratic friends, who came out not to vouch for her but to say they were concerned and unsatisfied. Republican senators and a grass-roots conservative movement organized against their own president. (We can do better. This is an insult to the institution. She’s in over her head.) And sure enough the White House found a graceful way to end the nomination, saying it couldn’t provide documents needed for confirmation because of executive privilege.

Now, however, it is Democrats who cheer for an inept nominee. According to Bob Woodward, some Democrats have called the White House to see if Hagel is withdrawing. And yet none will publicly admit their qualms; none have hinted that they will vote against Hagel.

There is no graceful exit from the White House because President Obama doesn’t give a darn whether Hagel is an incompetent fool. He’s not backing down. He’s going to stick it to the pro-Israel community and to Israel. He’s going to stick it to the Republicans. There is no other way to read his determination to go forward with such a flawed nominee. And Democrats, unlike their Republican counterparts in the Miers nomination, don’t have the nerve or the concern for the institution in which the nominee would serve to force the president’s hand.

Let’s recap. The president doesn’t care about an inept nominee. The Democrats don’t care about an inept nominee. But Republicans are supposed to defer to the White House’s judgment? This is, frankly, nuts.

All of this is doubly concerning since the report from Rutgers. Contemporaneous notes recorded his words, and now Hagel can’t say definitively that he didn’t say them.  Meanwhile, after a slumber, two major liberal Jewish organizations, the Anti-Discrimination League and the American Jewish Committee, have perked up. Gosh, if true, this is really bad stuff, they say. In fact it’s about the worst they’ve heard from a nominee, who’s already declared himself not to be the senator from Israel. They’ve woken up, so why won’t the GOP senators following the Rutgers potential straw that breaks the nomination’s back?

And that’s not all there is. After discovery of even more speeches in which Hagel was heard cozying up to Iran and embracing the false-linkage theory, Hagel still will not say who paid for all his speeches in the past five years. He has the information at his fingertips, because presumably he reported his speaking fees as income on his tax return. However, he won’t make a copy of that and send it to the Senate for inspection. Is that because the payers are dubious characters? Because of the amounts involved? Given everything else wrong with this nominee, it is inconceivable that he would not be asked under oath if he made the purported remark at Rutgers or elsewhere and who paid for his speeches.

In any event, McCain and Graham shouldn’t fold when the going gets tough. If this nominee is as bad as they say, they should, and indeed must, filibuster him if the White House (unlike the Bush White House) and the Democrats (unlike the GOP senators of yesteryear) won’t do the right thing.