Editorial: Republicans wrong to filibuster Chuck Hagel nomination
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 21:02
President Obama has nominated Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator, to serve as Secretary of Defense for his second-term cabinet. At first glance, this nominee appears to be a shoo-in. Before Hager’s two terms in the Senate, he served in Vietnam. He then made a successful career in business while serving as president of the United Service Organizations – a nonprofit that provides services to troops and their families.
However, his nomination has not been as simple as one might think. During his confirmation hearings, Senate Republicans grilled the nominee, not only on his political positions, but on past speaking engagements and other unrelated issues. Many members also attempted to use the nomination as political leverage against the president, demanding unrelated information from the White House before they voted on Hagel’s confirmation. Their current filibuster of the vote is a blatant example of petty partisan tactics, and it must end.
Looking at media coverage of the situation, it would appear that there is a wide variety of problems with Hagel’s nomination. Early in the process, Hagel was accused of making anti-Semitic remarks in the past. During a discussion about international politics, he stated, “I’m not an Israeli senator. I’m a United States senator.” Also, in 1999, Hagel was the only senator to decline signing a letter to the Russian president, threatening to cut aid if he did not take action against anti-Semitism. However, allegations of anti-semitism are unfounded. It is true that Hagel was elected to serve the United States, not Israel, and his boldness in standing up to those who favor Israel without question is admirable. He also had a policy of never signing letters to foreign heads of state and to single out that particular letter is misleading.
Other criticisms of Hagel include his calling the defense budget “bloated” and being willing to negotiate with the government of Iran. In today’s budgetary climate, it’s refreshing to have a nominee for Secretary of Defense who realizes that cuts need to be made to the Pentagon, rather than treating the military and its contractors as off-limits to any financial analysis. Similarly, a poll by the University of Maryland showed 69 percent of Americans support continuing discussions with Iran.
However, it is evident that these criticisms of Hagel are merely a cover, rather than honest concerns of elected officials. Senate Republicans are turning Hagel into a pawn in their unending battle with President Obama. Wyoming Senator John Barrasso is quoted as saying Hagel will be “less effective [at the Pentagon] because of the fact that the president nominated him.” Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte all refused to vote on the nomination until they got more information on the Benghazi attack from the White House, although Hagel had nothing to do with the White House’s response to the crisis.
The 58-40-2 vote on Feb. 12 to end the unprecedented filibuster was two shy of the 60 needed, and the Senate is now in recess. When the Senate reconvenes, the Republicans who voted against the filibuster should put aside their partisan animosity and allow the chamber to vote on Hagel’s nomination. Anything else would only further cement their reputation as “The Party of No.”