John McCain set the stage for a truly embarrassing spectacle last week for Chuck Hagel, ripping into his former colleague and friend for opposing the surges in Iraq and Afghanistan. The tense exchange rattled Hagel and left him off-balance for more pertinent questions about Iran and the Department of Defense that Hagel fumbled. However, that’s not enough to keep Hagel from getting an up-or-down vote, McCain now argues:
“I do not believe that we should filibuster,” McCain told POLITICO. “To vote against is entirely the judgment of each individual senator, but a filibuster I think would be inappropriate.”
Asked if he would vote for cloture if a filibuster were mounted, McCain answered, “Yes.”
The White House and Democratic leadership are already confident that a solid majority exists for the Hagel to be confirmed on a simple majority vote. McCain’s opposition to a filibuster should make it easier to get the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture.
Republican Sens. Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Thad Cochran of Mississippi have already announced they would support Hagel, meaning that Democrats appear to have at least 57 senators ready to support his nomination if they can keep their caucus united.
Normally, I would agree. Filibustering a nominee on policy grounds would be unacceptable, and would represent more of an intent to relitigate a presidential election than a true advise-and-consent process. Presidents are entitled to their advisers, especially since they only serve as long as the President does — except in cases of corruption, abuses of power, or incompetence.
As I posted earlier, I believe that Hagel demonstrated incompetence and a lack of qualification in his hearing. If Hagel did that for the job of Secretary of HUD or Transportation, that might not present a real problem. As Secretary of Defense, though, the kind of incompetence and lack of preparation demonstrated should concern the entire Senate, and not just Republicans. It is entirely impossible to argue after that hearing that Hagel is a qualified choice for the job, let alone a good choice or the best choice.
Still, without McCain, a filibuster won’t fly. Neither will a hold. Hagel will win confirmation, unless Democrats decide that they saw enough last week to press Obama to change his mind — an unlikely outcome, to say the least.