Hagel moves closer to confirmation

Chuck Hagel seemed certain to be confirmed as defense secretary, after Senate Republicans indicated that they would end their filibuster.

What happened

Chuck Hagel seemed certain this week to be confirmed as defense secretary, after Senate Republicans indicated that they would end their unprecedented effort to block his nomination with a filibuster. Critics have argued that the former Republican senator is the wrong man to head the Pentagon, alleging that he is hostile to Israel, opposes efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program, and wants to diminish America’s military footprint abroad—charges Hagel denies. After joining in a filibuster that prevented a vote last week on Hagel’s nomination, Sen. John McCain said this week that Republicans would now stand aside, even as he insisted that Hagel—a decorated Vietnam War veteran—was “unqualified” to be defense secretary. Fellow Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham also said he’d withdraw the filibuster, but called Hagel one of the most “radical choices for secretary of defense in a very long time.”

Republicans said they voted to delay Hagel’s confirmation to have more time to examine his finances and past speeches. That rare move—he’s only the third Cabinet nominee to be filibustered in Senate history—forced Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to schedule another vote for Feb. 26 and warn Republicans that they were endangering national security. “This isn’t high school getting ready for a football game,” said Reid. “We’re trying to confirm somebody to run the defense of our country.” Since Democrats control the Senate, Hagel is expected to easily win confirmation.

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What the editorials said

The GOP’s stalling is all about self-preservation, said The Buffalo News. Sen. Graham is normally a voice of reason, but he’s “anxious about a potential Tea Party challenge in 2014.” In denying President Obama his nominee for as long as possible, the senator hopes to prove to the “rabid portions of his constituency that he can be as foolish as any Tea Party congressman.” He and his allies will come to regret this filibuster, said the Cleveland Plain Dealer. By “jerking around” Obama’s nominee, they’re inviting Democrats to do the same the next time there’s a Republican president.

But this filibuster is hardly unprecedented, said The Wall Street Journal. In 2005, Democrats—including then Sen. Barack Obama—delayed a vote over John Bolton’s nomination as U.N. ambassador, claiming the Bush administration hadn’t released enough information. “The Senate’s nomination protocol is far more elastic when a Democrat is in the White House.”

What the columnists said

Republicans should do everything possible to block Hagel’s confirmation, said Bret Stephens in The Wall Street Journal, because he is simply too dangerous to be our next defense secretary. His sympathy for Iran is well known—he opposes even mild sanctions against the regime—as is his anti-Semitism. Hagel once referred to pro-Israel groups in Washington as “the Jewish lobby” and, in a 2007 speech at Rutgers University, reportedly called the U.S. State Department “an adjunct of the Israeli foreign minister’s office.” He’s since claimed he can’t remember making that comment, but repudiated it anyway. “Which makes him a crank who lacks even the courage of his convictions.”

This is a smear campaign, said Greg Sargent in WashingtonPost.com. The conservative blogger who noted Hagel’s alleged “adjunct” comment has admitted that the quote is “not exact word-for-word,” and no other attendees recall the statement. It’s not the first lie to be thrown at Hagel, said Eric Boehlert in HuffingtonPost.com. Right-wing news site Breitbart.com reported that the former senator had received secret payments from a shady group called “Friends of Hamas,” citing an unnamed Senate insider as the source. Republican Sen. Rand Paul called the news “concerning.” The one problem? Friends of Hamas “doesn’t actually exist.”

Republicans have succeeded in trashing Hagel’s reputation, said Daniel Larison in TheAmericanConservative.com. But their ridiculous tactics mean that the GOP will continue to be seen “as nothing more than a party of bombastic hard-liners.” Most Americans agree with many of Hagel’s views—they’re eager to avoid war with Iran and think the military should be downsized. By playing to the most extreme elements of the Republican base, Senate Republicans have ensured “that all of the moderates, independents, and realists that they have alienated over the last 10 years will keep running away from them.”

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