We get it. Chuck Hagel isn’t going to be chosen “most popular nominee” by the United States Senate, but he should be confirmed as the nation’s next secretary of defense.
The “don’t-call-it-a-filibuster” stalling of Hagel’s nomination — the first time a defense secretary’s nomination has ever been, yes, filibustered — is Washington political game-playing at its worst.
And it couldn’t come at a worse time.
The departing defense secretary, Leon Panetta, has one foot out the door. North Korea test-fired a new rocket and detonated a nuclear bomb. Some 68,000 U.S. troops are engaged in a shooting war in Afghanistan. Chinese and Iranian cyberattacks on U.S. computer networks are intensifying. There is civil war in Syria. The Pentagon faces some $46 billion in automatic spending cuts starting March 1, just days after senators return to Washington from their latest vacation.
So what is keeping the former Nebraska senator from receiving the up-or-down vote that would most certainly make the decorated combat veteran the nation’s next secretary of defense?
>> Hagel’s critics, his fellow Republicans, said the White House should provide more details about its actions in the aftermath of the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012.
There is no doubt that the administration’s explanation of those events has been muddled at best. But the attack that killed four American diplomats has nothing to do with Hagel’s qualifications. If senators wanted to hold a nominee hostage to get these answers, why didn’t they do it with the president’s nominee for secretary of state — the official who oversees U.S. diplomats?
Oh, wait. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., was a popular member of the Senate club. And senators voted 94-3 to confirm him. Kerry’s nomination was approved, incidentally, only hours after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recommended him. Yet critics said two days wasn’t enough additional time to ponder Hagel’s positive recommendation from the Armed Services panel.
>> Hagel’s critics also say they want Hagel to provide more details about his finances — even though he provided everything required of a nominee — including two years of financial information and the committee’s requirement to disclose transactions with a foreign government going back further.
Most outrageously, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, contended of speaking fees Hagel that received: “It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 deposited in his back account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea.”
That “have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife?” innuendo brought a stern rebuke from Republican Sen. John McCain, who’s clearly no fan of this nomination. “No one on this committee should at any time impugn his (Hagel’s) character or his integrity,” McCain bristled.
During his two terms in the Senate, Hagel obviously angered some of his colleagues, particularly with his outspoken opposition to conduct of the Iraq War. He didn’t make many friends when he publicly told fellow senators, “If you want a safe job, go sell shoes.”
But so what?
Every president is entitled to put the people he wants in charge of federal government departments. The president chose Chuck Hagel, whose experience in combat, business, the Veterans Administration and the Senate gives him the credentials for this job.
Unless a nominee is shown to be unfit or unqualified — not unpopular — the Senate should vote “yea” or “nay” on the appointment, not filibuster to keep a confirmation vote from taking place.
And yes, these delays and stalling tactics are a filibuster. “If the Democrats were doing it, we would be hollering that this was a filibuster,” said Nebraska Republican Sen. Mike Johanns, who admirably voted to consider the Hagel nomination, along with three fellow Republicans.
American soldiers under fire. Nuclear testing. Cyberattacks. Budget cuts.
All of these pressing issues and more require a secretary of defense, not endless political posturing.
Fifty-nine senators were ready to consider Hagel’s nomination. Only 51 votes are needed to confirm his appointment if this filibuster ends.
Without a doubt, senators should vote their consciences. If they disagree with Hagel’s nomination, his philosophy or his qualifications, then they should vote against him.
But they need to vote.