There are increasing signs former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel will be confirmed — signals from (disgruntled) Republicans in the form of news stories quoting them individually and as a group. The latest via Rollcall:
Republicans continued their attacks on Chuck Hagel on Sunday, but they also signaled that the former Republican senator from Nebraska will probably be confirmed as Defense secretary.
“I’m confident that Sen. Hagel will probably have the votes necessary to be confirmed as secretary of Defense,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on “Meet the Press.”
However, McCain said he would not be among those voting to confirm Hagel. After Republicans blocked a vote last week, the Senate will take up Hagel’s nomination again next week.
“I don’t believe he is qualified,” McCain said, “but I don’t believe that we should hold up his nomination any further.”
Senate Republicans have had numerous questions about Hagel’s stance on Israel and his past challenges to U.S. interventions in the Middle East, including the successful troop surge in Iraq.
Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., suggested that Hagel had at least put to rest his own questions about reports that Hagel, in a 2007 speech at Rutgers University, had called the State Department an adjunct of the Israeli foreign minister’s office. Hagel wrote to him to say he did not recall making that statement, Graham said.
“The letter said he did not recall saying that, and he disavows that statement,” Graham said. He added: “If in fact that’s true, that ends the matter.”
Graham called Hagel “the most antagonistic senator to the state of Israel in history” and “one of the most unqualified, radical choices for secretary of Defense in a very long time.”
But, he added: “At the end of the day, this is the president’s decision. I give him great discretion.”
The Washington Post’s conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin is not pleased. She wants the (unprecedented) filibuster (which Republicans insist is not a filibuster much as “pre-owned” cars are not “used cars”) to continue:
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.
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.
But perhaps in the end McCain and Graham see a reality:
If Hagel is defeated due to a filibuster that works, yet a new hyper-partisan, hyper ideologist standard will be set in the Senate and, even worse, it will feed into the kind of deeply ingrained imagery that the GOP paid for early at the ballot box in November: an image that the Republican Party is obstructionist and better at opposing and demonizing that forward looking.
Unless there’s some bombshell, Hagel being defeated due to a filibuster won’t help the GOP gain votes from the groups they lost and need to woo if they want to win national elections in the future.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.