Chuck Hagel isn’t everyone’s idea of a great defense secretary. Fair enough. Some previous positions and statements have caused consternation in some quarters, though it is peculiar that, on the political front, most of it is coming from the former senator’s fellow Republicans. That’s a good one on its own: A Democratic president nominates a former Republican senator for defense secretary and Republican senators howl.
But now it’s gone beyond howling. Republican senators are willfully breaching a barrier of conduct that will further wreck Congress’ ability to do the nation’s work and, incredibly, all but guarantee that Democrats will someday return the favor. Such is the state of national politics. It’s all about show and never mind the consequences. It is a standard of conduct that is neither responsible nor conservative.
Specifically, Republicans filibustered Hagel’s nomination last week, not simply rejecting a president’s choice for his cabinet – virtually unheard of on its own – but even denying the vote, itself. Had Republicans discovered something new and troubling about Hagel that demanded this delay, that would be defensible. But such was not the case.
Rather, Republicans were demanding more information about the only issue their minds can process these days: the September attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
They want to know exactly what President Obama was doing at that time, which is irrelevant to the current issue and of ongoing interest only to Republicans who are desperate for a way to gain traction against a resurgent Obama. This isn’t the way to do that. In fact, this kind of adolescent gamesmanship helps explain why Republicans lost not only the presidency last November, but seats in both the House and Senate.
And it is gamesmanship. Consider: The problem at Benghazi flowed not from the Defense Department, but from the State Department. If Republicans were really looking for answers on Benghazi, they would have held up John Kerry’s nomination for State, not Hagel’s for Defense. They didn’t. Kerry’s nomination sailed through the Senate without a hitch.
That’s not the only issue behind Republican kookery on this nomination. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who is often-enough a voice of reason in his party’s Senate caucus, is already anxious about a potential tea party challenge in 2014.
He is upending important Senate traditions for no better reason than to protect his flanks, demonstrating to the rabid portions of his constituency that he can be as foolish as any tea party congressman they can name. It’s not the kind of recommendation one would typically put on a resume, but then, these are peculiar times.
Congress is on a brief break, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already scheduled another vote for Feb. 26. Graham, who has clothed his cheap objections in patriotic finery, has announced that he will continue seeking to block even a vote on Hagel’s nomination.
We hope other Republicans will think again before continuing down this path. Someday, there will be another Republican president and a Republican Senate considering important nominations. Today’s Republicans might want to give to Obama the kind of deference they would expect then. And if that doesn’t matter to them, they could try just thinking about the country, which needs a new secretary of defense.