Biting the Hagel Bullet


Although Chuck Hagel is an undesirable Secretary of Defense pick for most in the modern GOP, blocking his nomination may end up doing more harm than good to the Republican cause.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has complained that there has “never in the history of the country been a filibuster of a defense secretary nominee.” Although he is correct that this particular position has never faced significant opposition in the nomination process, there have been similar cases.

In June of 2005, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden all voted “nay” on a motion to invoke cloture on the nomination of John R. Bolton to be Representative of the United States to the United Nations. Granted, the position of United States Ambassador to the United Nations was not a Cabinet level position at the time. However, then-Senator Obama certainly regarded the office as an important one, elevating it to Cabinet-level status during his first term.

With this in mind, many believe Senate Republicans have a viable precedent as well as a Constitutional justification — the appointment of Officers of the United States” requires the “advice and consent of the Senate” — for blocking the nomination. That said, it is far from in their interest.

Chuck Hagel received President Obama’s nomination to be Secretary of Defense because the two have a common, realpolitik aversion to international intervention. Although most Senate Republicans certainly disagree with his foreign policy views, to block his nomination on those grounds ignores the reality that the President will eventually fill his Cabinet with those he trusts (i.e. those with whom he agrees).

The fact of the matter is that every act of obstruction carries a cost; a Party can only say “no” so many times before diminishing its credibility and risking irrelevance. Recognizing their recently diminished political capital, it would thus behoove Senate Republicans to prioritize their interests. Over the next few months, Congress will discuss a higher minimum wage, entitlement reform, and new immigration policies, thereby reaching (or perhaps as likely postponing?) decisions that will shape our government for years to come. The Hagel nomination, on the other hand, will undoubtedly be irrelevant four years from now.

Thus, as this nomination fiasco weakens the Republican position going forward and pales in political significance to blocking a raise in the minimum wage, cutting entitlement spending, and reforming our immigration policy, the Senate ought to bite the Chuck Hagel bullet and move on to other, more pressing concerns.

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