Hagel’s Problem is Hagel
Yesterday, the Senate delayed the confirmation of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense. The delay was not historic, unexpected or unfounded. Unfortunately, too many Senators (and thus the media) are “insisting that the administration must first answer more questions” about Libya. What they should concern themselves with is Hagel’s “quiet incompetence that makes him unfit to lead America’s armed forces.”
Simply put, Chuck Hagel’s problem is Chuck Hagel.
Senators should ask themselves one simple question: is there a single shred of paper that Obama administration could hand over that would make Chuck Hagel a palatable defense secretary?
For some context, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked Hagel during the confirmation hearing whether “the sum total of all of your votes…the statements…all that together, that the image you have created is one of sending the worst possible signal to our enemies and friends at one of the most critical times in world history?”
If Graham and his colleagues believe Hagel’s record has sent “the worst possible signal to our enemies,” then he is simply unqualified to lead the Department of Defense. There is nothing the Obama administration can do or say to change that fact.
Even though the problem with Hagel is Hagel, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) laid the groundwork yesterday for a post-recess capitulation:
I believe Senators have the right to have those questions answered. The Senator from South Carolina and I, the Senator from New Hampshire [Kelly Ayotte] had a response from the President today on the question we had, but there are other questions. But I think during the break is sufficient time to get any additional questions answered. I will vote in favor of cloture on the day we get back. I believe my colleagues would also–a number of my colleagues would do the same. [emphasis added]
It would take just one Republican Senator – either Graham or McCain, for example – to flip their vote on Tuesday, February 26, thus paving the way for Hagel’s confirmation. But as McCain indicated, more of his colleagues are likely to follow.
Chief among them is freshman Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE), who hails from Hagel’s home state. Adding to the pressure, her state’s senior senator, Mike Johanns (R-NE), was one of just four Republicans to vote in favor of ending debate yesterday. We don’t need another Cornhusker Kickback, we need a competent defense secretary. Some believe Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) may also flip.
Senators should take their constitutional obligation of “advice and consent” seriously by focusing on Hagel. There will be plenty of time for Bengazi, but it would be a mistake to allow that tragedy to distract from Hagel’s inability to lead America’s armed forces.