Republicans in the Senate are essentially filibustering President Obama's nomination of Chuck Hagel to lead the Defense Department, an unprecedented delay for a cabinet nominee who has majority support. And while the move delays an up-or-down vote on Hagel's nomination for at least 10 days, most analysts believe he will eventually be confirmed, in no small part because the GOP doesn't want to set a precedent that could come back to haunt the party the next time a Republican wins the presidency. Still, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and other GOP senators may have already succeeded in one respect: Drubbing Hagel so mercilessly that he ultimately proves to be a powerless figure at the Pentagon.
Senior White House officials predicted that a battered Hagel would manage to limp over the finish line and take the job of defense secretary later this month. But others pointed to the cost after weeks of absorbing criticism…
"The big picture here is the Pentagon is not going to have much protection from outside political forces during the second Obama administration," said defense analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute. "Hagel has alienated so many people in his own Republican Party that reaching across the aisle would be a challenge. … It raises questions about whether he will be able to implement any major changes at the Pentagon, given how narrow his base of support on the Hill seems to be." [Politico]
The kinds of changes the White House had reportedly expected from Hagel include pruning the Pentaton's gargantuan budget and overseeing a long-running withdrawal from the costly military adventures of the Bush administration. Analysts say Hagel can expect far more meddling from Congress than his predecessors, Bob Gates and Leon Panetta, both of whom were shown an extraordinary degree of deference from lawmakers. (For a handy comparison, just consider that Panetta, a gregarious veteran of the Clinton administration, was confirmed unanimously by the Senate.)
Indeed, at this point, Republicans may even prefer Hagel to another nominee. As Jonathan Chait at New York writes:
Republicans have probably decided they're better off with the wounded Hagel in office than they are actually filibustering his nomination to death. So they're making the smart play of delaying the final vote for another ten days, extracting whatever additional blood they can out of the hemorrhaging nominee, and then letting him limp into his job. [New York]
However, a nominee-in-waiting is usually far more of a wallflower during the confirmation process than when he or she finally gets the job. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, for example, promised to be the kind of judge who merely "calls balls and strikes," before going on to lead what many believe to be one of the most activist courts in recent memory. Republicans have utterly befouled the relationship between their party and the likely Pentagon chief, and they may come to regret it. Remember, Hagel rose to national prominence — and earned the everlasting enmity of his former Republican colleagues — by vigorously opposing the Iraq War, a sign that he's not afraid of a fight.