Republicans have used the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, to argue against President Obama and his foreign policy competence since early Sept. 12, 2012, when the attack dropped into the middle of a heated presidential campaign. The GOP effort to spotlight the attack wasn't without its consequences for the Obama administration — U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice is not secretary of state, for example — but Obama was re-elected and Hillary Clinton just retired as secretary of state with enviably high popularity ratings. On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on CBS's Face the Nation that he will place a hold on the nominations of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Obama's pick for defense secretary, and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, the CIA chief nominee, until Obama hands over more records on the Benghazi attacks. "No confirmation without information," he insisted. (Watch Graham make his case below.)
Graham sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), which not only held grueling confirmation hearings on Hagel two weeks ago but also had outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, in to testify last week, allowing Graham and his GOP allies to grill the top Pentagon officials about, yes, Benghazi. Democrats say Levin is "fed up" with his GOP colleagues after that last hearing, which "had been convened partly to mollify Graham, who initially said he would hold up Hagel's nomination process if Panetta didn't testify," says Tim Mak at Politico. "Sunday's comments showed Graham was not mollified," and now Levin faces a conundrum: Force through a party-line vote on Tuesday to advance Hagel's nomination to a full Senate vote, potentially damaging "the committee's longtime bipartisan spirit," or postpone the vote again.
Sunday wasn't the first time Graham threatened "to hold (not filibuster) Hagel until he gets answers about Benghazi," says David Weigel at Slate. "Seriously, he says this all the time. It was only 'news' yesterday because he'd previously demanded a hearing with Panetta, and now he's demanding Obama." But Democrats and other Republicans on the Sunday shows largely thwarted the persistent hopes of the "anti-Hagelians" that something — anything — will derail the nomination. The only real question is whether Republicans will take the unprecedented step of filibustering the Hagel vote, and so far none has stepped forward.
If the filibuster is out, then threatening to place a hold on Hagel's nomination "is just about all the Republicans have left when it comes to leverage on the White House to get more information about Benghazi," says Rick Moran at PJ Media. And if Graham follows through, Democrats and a handful of Republicans will still probably override the hold with a cloture vote, meaning Hagel will at least get an up-or-down vote. So the information Graham is "asking for from the White House, he is not likely to get."
The administration has successfully stonewalled, obfuscated, and brushed off requests for information until Benghazi now seems a distant memory — a bad dream that the president would like the American people to forget. It seems likely at this point, that the president will get his wish. [PJ Tattler]
Call it what you want, but Graham's hold would essentially be the same as a filibuster, and as such it will only work "if his fellow Republicans, most specifically including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, go along with him," says Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. It doesn't appear they will — "there already appear to be at least 60 votes in favor of invoking cloture on Hagel's nomination, at the very least." So why is he bothering?
First, with Graham up for re-election in 2014 and facing the prospect of a challenge from the right in the Republican Primary it's not surprising to see him latching on the the conservative cause du jour that Benghazi has become. After becoming associated with immigration reform so much that conservatives routinely call him "Lindsey Grahamnesty," he needs to find a way to get back in their good graces and pounding the table incoherently over what conservatives are convinced is the latest Obama scandal is a pretty darn good way to do it. Secondly, once again, as if the hearing itself weren't bad enough, we see yet again just how incoherent Republican foreign policy has become lately. There's really nothing that Hagel has said, now or in the past, that's inconsistent with what used to be mainstream GOP foreign policy. The fact that it's now reason for someone to be persona non grata says a lot about the state of the party. [Outside the Beltway]
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- Your literary playlist: A guide to the music of Haruki Murakami
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- The secret to handling pressure like astronauts, Navy SEALs, and samurai
- After Ferguson, we don't need another dialogue on race
- The government is getting into the fact-checking business. Be very, very afraid.
- Russia's new air force is a mystery
- How I became a borderline hoarder
Subscribe to the Week