Hagel: I’m not withdrawing despite filibuster

posted at 1:21 pm on February 14, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Hey, who knew that Chuck Hagel wasn’t a guy to go along with a Republican consensus?  Despite a full-fledged effort to filibuster Hagel, he insists he’s staying in the mix:

Chuck Hagel, known for his unswerving relentlessness both as a senator and as a soldier, plans to stand fast as President Obama’s nominee to head the Pentagon despite a growing GOP effort to defeat him with a rare filibuster, aides said. “He’s not withdrawing,” says Aaron Dowd, a spokesman for the former Nebraska senator. “He could be defeated, but he’s not withdrawing. It’s not something anyone is discussing.” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor, in a brief interview Thursday, endorsed that view. “He’s our guy,” Vietor said.

According to Michael Hirsh, Hagel is actually feeling a bit more buoyant about the change in the nature of the dispute:

Withdrawal at this stage, of course, would amount to a major political defeat for Obama, and so it remains unlikely. Nonetheless, Republicans who oppose Hagel – who alienated his fellow Republicans by taking a stand against the Iraq invasion a decade ago, among other maverick positions — seem to be newly confident that they can somehow derail his nomination with a filibuster that they’re not quite yet admitting is a filibuster. Senators such as Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are claiming they are holding up the confirmation because they want more information from the White House on Obama’s actions related to the 9/11 Benghazi attacks, which have nothing to do with Hagel.

That heartens the Hagel camp, which notes that the opposition to him has mostly to do with a lot of old history—primarily, the inability of many Republican senators to admit they might have gotten Iraq wrong—as well as a new insecurity among Republicans who are desperate for a winning issue. “A lot of this has nothing to do with him,” Dowd says.

Hirsh acknowledges, though, that Hagel actually fueled the obstructionism with his own lack of preparation for the confirmation hearing:

Hagel only fed his opponents’ ambitions with a strikingly weak performance at his confirmation hearing, where he fumbled over several questions, including whether he supported “containment” against Iran.

Senate Republicans have now become publicly committed to obstructing the nomination, at least for now:

Fox News has confirmed that Senate Republicans told Democrats that they will formally filibuster the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense.

The why is important in this case, though.  Most people have succumbed to the inevitability of having a mediocrity running the Department of Defense. Hagel, who was forced to admit that he knew little about current defense issues and then utterly fumbled a fundamental question about policy regarding Iran, also has no experience running large organizations and isn’t exactly known for his teamwork and leadership, either.

Until last week’s hearings on Benghazi and the revelation that the White House didn’t communicate with Leon Panetta after an initial briefing at the beginning of the attack on the consulate, there was no reason to block Hagel if Obama insisted on pursuing his confirmation — and probably good reason to let the President suffer the consequences of such a badly-handled nomination.  Now, though, Senate Republicans have no leverage to pursue answers on Benghazi without going through Hagel.

Either way, Hagel has no real reason to withdraw.  He will eventually get confirmed one way or the other; the only question will be whether the White House can continue to stonewall on Benghazi, or will have to start answering some of the embarrassing questions that arose from Panetta’s testimony.

Meanwhile, here’s today’s follow-up on Senator Rand Paul’s earlier threat to filibuster John Brennan over the possibility that the Obama administration will conduct its “targeted killing” policy inside the US.  This is a more firm commitment to blocking Brennan until Paul gets an answer from the White House.  Is this a silly question? Not exactly. As the New York Time’s Andrew Rosenthal wrote this morning, Attorney General Eric Holder put the “targeted killing” policy entirely in terms of overseas operations last March, and the memo leaked to NBC oddly didn’t restrict the authority for such actions to the American border.  Be sure to read Allahpundit’s excellent rundown from yesterday for the background on this question:

Shouldn’t this be an easy question to answer?  Here’s Rosenthal on that point:

(Attorney General Eric Holder, who outlined the “targeted killing” policy last March without acknowledging that anyone had actually been killed, framed it entirely in terms of Americans living overseas.  So the White House should be able to answer that one easily. Right?)

One would think — but why haven’t they answered it yet, even with Paul’s acknowledgment that government has always had the right to use force to stop an attack that truly imminent or in process?


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