On March 14, 2013 Chuck Hagel will officially be sworn in as Secretary of Defense by Vice president Biden. The Hagel confirmation had its tense moments although the nomination was never in danger. The fight provides many lessons.
1. President Obama Is Strengthened: The confirmation battle strengthened the President. Right wingers, among Republicans and in the Jewish community, made all out and demagogic efforts to derail the nomination before Obama officially announced Hagel’s appointment. Obama stood firm. Many, at this stage, rallied to Hagel’s support. Hagel’s supporters included the national security establishment–former Cabinet officials, members of the military, veterans organizations including the conservative VFW, former ambassadors to Israel. J Street’s enthusiastic support for Hagel showed he had the support of the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” Jewish community. Main line Jewish organizations, in advance of the nomination, “murmured’ their concerns but failed to stand up to the extremists in the Jewish community.
Obama knew that Hagel had plenty of credible political and substantive support going into the fight. The President and the rest of the Administration, including Secretary Panetta, stood firm.
2. Senate Democrats Stayed Resolute: Senators appropriately wanted to meet with Hagel before announcing their support. They had legitamte questions on policy and some of the issues triggered by the attacks on Hagel. Once individual Senatprs met with Hagel they announced their support. That support stayed firm all through the confirmation fight.
Senator Levin led a masterlly Senate confirmation process that answered all questions, that refused to permit fishing expeditions and blunted the wild statements of Senators Inhofe (R-Ok), Cruz (R-Tx), McCain (R-Ar) and Graham (R-SC).
During the hearing Senate Democrats asked questions about weapons systems, treatment of veterans, base closings, implementation of gay equality, Afghanistan and Iraq. They included Israel and Iran. Republicans focused only on Israel and Iran.
Every Senate Democrat who voted, voted to confirm in the Armed Services Committee, to end the filibuster and ultimately to confirm Hagel.
3. Senate Republicans Raced to the Gutter: The confirmation fight showed the American people that the Senate has a new Joe McCarthy trying to break through. Senator Cruz knew no bounds of decency in his McCarthyite accusations of Hagel. His extreme denunciations, not factually based, make Fox News and its commentators models of moderation (which we know they are not.)
What is especially disgraceful is that no Senate leader or other Republican Senator denounced Cruz. McCain’s and Graham’s brief mild ripostes of Cruz do not measure up as serious and principled criticism. One Republican leader–Minority Whip Cornyn (R-Tx)– is intimidated by Cruz and it appears that Minority Leader McConnell (R-Ky) is as well. To McConnell add his fellow Kentuckian, Rand Paul.
All through the hearings Senators Inhofe, McCain and Graham lived in the gutter, added to by their inquisitorial style which has more to do with shouting and wagging metaphoric fingers, rather than asking questions.
4. Filibuster Rule Still Needs Reform: One reform proposed by our champions Senators Merkley (D-Or) and Udall (D-NM) is that instead of 60 Senators voting to end a filibuster 41 need to vote to continue one. That rule would make a difference as some Senators would initially not vote to continue a filibuster for a Cabinet appointee.
Senator Merkley in a meeting with the Council Board said Udall and he will continue their efforts to reform the filibuster. Merkley will provide a Senate report card on filibuster abuses every three months. This is a vital tool in the public’s education about filibuster abuses.
Three Republicans opposed the filibuster and voted to confirm Hagel. They are: Cochran (Ms), Johanns (Nebr) and Shelby (Ala). Among Congressional Republicans, practitioners of right wing democratic centralism, these Senators in this instance are profiles in courage.
5. Many in the Media and Commentators Had a Rush to Faulty Judgment: The Hagel hearing made it appear that Hagel was weak. Everyone agrees that the confirmation hearing was not Hagel’s finest hour. What reflected opinion showed is that Hagel gave thoughtful answers when he was allowed to answer questions and was not badgered by inquisitorial Senators.
Bob Woodward particularly disgraced himself by asserting that Democrats might not support Hagel and were urging, during the confirmation fight, that Hagel withdraw. This is unproved. When it became clear after the President submitted the appointment that Democrats supported Hagel, Woodward allowed his inaccurate assertion to stand.
Many journalists fell for the phony “Friends of Hamas” accusation that Hagel received money from what turned out to be a non-existent organization. The rush to judgment meant that reporters did not check to see if “Friends of Hamas” is a real organization.
That is journalistic malfeasance. Dave Weigel, an enterprising Slate journalist, exposed the non-existence of “Friends of Hamas”..
Robert Gibbs was quick to denounce Hagel for his lack of preparation when in fact he was not allowed to answer questions. With allies like Gibbs Hagel did not need enemies.
The Future: The Defense Budget will be cut. We need a defense and national security posture that meets our current and future needs. The impressive support for Hagel suggests that critical and necessary changes will require the same support in any of the efforts Obama and Hagel make to thwart the interests and ideologies that are so wedded to the past. March 14, the date of the swearing in, provides a new beginning.
March 7, 2013