After being approved by a 14-11 vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Senate Republicans yesterday blocked the nomination of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) for secretary of defense. Senators voted 58-40 in favor of ending debate on the matter, falling short of the 60 votes required to invoke cloture and stop the Republican filibuster. Four Republicans and two Independents voted with Democrats. See here for the full roll call. Hagel’s nomination now remains on hold until after the Senate returns from recess, with Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announcing that the next roll call will be held on February 26.
As a decorated Vietnam War veteran and someone with a history of sensible views on military deployment, Hagel seems like a strong candidate for secretary of defense. Moreover, given the widespread involvement of the U.S. military around the world, it makes sense to not have the nomination process drag on. In light of this, Republican efforts to delay his nomination seem to be little more than unnecessary obstructionism designed to embarrass the Obama administration.
Since attacking Hagel during his confirmation hearing for his remarks about Israel, Senate Republicans have since voiced a different but equally ridiculous objection to his nomination. Led by Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), they are threatening to block the nomination until the White House releases more information on the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi. Highlighting the absurdity of the threat, PolicyMic editorMichael Luciano notes that it "comes despite the fact that Hagel had nothing to do with the Benghazi attack, or was even employed by the U.S. government at the time."
Writing for Mother Jones today, Kevin Drum argues that there "might be legitimate questions about his [Hagel’s] role, but the actual Senate hearings have made crystal clear that among Republican ranks, they couldn't care less about that ... They've asked no substantive questions about that at all. It's all Israel, Benghazi, Israel, Iran, Israel, "Friends of Hamas," and Israel."
These objections aside, Republican opposition to Hagel’s nomination is also "deeply personal" due to his failure to support Republican presidential nominee John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008. McCain has even gone as far as to call Hagel "anti-his-own-party."
The lack of substantive objection to Hagel’s nomination makes the unprecedented filibuster by Republicans seem like an even more blatant example of partisan politics. Despite their growing use in the Senate, filibusters have very rarely been used to block Cabinet appointees. Hagel is now the only Pentagon nominee, and just the third Cabinet nominee, to be subjected to a filibuster. Just as its use in the other cases proved to be purely symbolic, the same seems set to be the case with Hagel’s nomination.
Senator Graham one of those who voted against cloture yesterday has indicated that he is prepared to move forward with the nomination after the recess, saying he will feel better about it then. What will change in that time? His comments just reinforce the pointlessness of the current delay. Some Republicans have also flat-out admitted that they don’t actually have any outstanding issues of their own regarding Hagel’s nomination, but are simply voting with party colleagues.
Furthermore, McCain has said that he will vote for cloture during the next roll call, and he thinks that enough of his colleagues will do the same for the motion to be successful. Although both Graham and McCain still oppose Hagel's nomination, with debate cut off he will then have the simple majority needed for confirmation as Democrats control 55 seats in the 100-member Senate.
Republican objections have had little to do with the quality of the nominee and everything to do with partisan politics. Making legitimate, substantive objections to a nominee is not the issue. In fact, it should be encouraged. Pointlessly delaying the nomination, however, is in no one’s best interests.