Senate Republicans and their dishonest Hagel debacle

February 15, 2013 

The following editorial appeared in The New York Times on Friday:

For the last four years, Senate Republicans have used the power of the filibuster to block legislation, bottle up nominees to courts and government departments, and strangle federal agencies, even though they are in the minority. On Thursday, they hit a new low. They successfully filibustered Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s nominee for defense secretary, the first time a Cabinet nominee for this post has been prevented from receiving an up-or-down vote.

The Republicans claimed they needed more information about Hagel, although he answered every question at his confirmation hearing and provided more paperwork than usual. As a former Republican senator, in fact, Hagel is better known to his old colleagues than most nominees. A delay of another week or two, which some members said they were seeking, is not going to change anyone’s opinion.

Some senators tried to use the nomination to reignite last year’s smoldering fight over the deaths of U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya, demanding to know when Obama spoke to the president of Libya after the attack. This exercise in political score-settling obviously has nothing to do with Hagel, and the White House had no obligation to respond, but it did anyway, saying Obama spoke to the president the day after the attack.

Did that satisfy the Republicans? Of course not. They just moved on to some new excuse to block Hagel, since the entire procedure was really about denying Obama his nominee for as long as possible. Harry Reid, the majority leader, explained what was actually happening. “I guess to be able to run for the Senate as a Republican in most places of the country, you need to have a resume that says I helped filibuster one of the president’s nominees,” he said. “Maybe that helps. Maybe that keeps a tea party guy from running against you.”

The most dishonest aspect of this debacle was that Republicans denied they were filibustering, claiming that they just wanted to prolong debate for a while and that all major votes require 60 supporters. (Hagel lost by a single vote.) That, of course, is the very definition of the filibuster, now so routine that Republican no longer acknowledge what they are doing.

The Constitution says the Senate must give or withhold its consent to presidential nominees; it does not give minority blocs the power to determine the outcome. The Senate could have restored the power of a majority last month if Reid had agreed to a proposal to reduce this abuse, but he did not. Although Republicans are determined to turn Cabinet nominations into tortuous ordeals, Democrats gave them the power to do so.

The New York Times

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