Woodward: Senate Dems calling WH to ask if Hagel is withdrawing

posted at 2:01 pm on February 17, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

The answer, for the moment, is “an emphatic no,” Bob Woodward tells the Fox News panel today, but the problem for Hagel is the other question that they’re asking (via Daniel Halper):

“I think there is another dimension here and that is, what are Democratic senators really thinking about the Hagel nomination? I understand some of them have actually called the White House and said, ‘Is Hagel going to withdraw? Would he consider withdrawing?’ The answer is an emphatic no,” Woodward reported. “But remember John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s aide, used to talk about twisting slowly in the wind. And the factor here is time, and there is this twisting in the wind aura to all of this. And I wonder whether the Democrats are kind of looking and asking what really is the fundamental question here: Is he the best person to be secretary of defense?”

That has been the fundamental question that the White House and Hagel’s defenders in the Senate have avoided ever since it first got floated.  The morning of Hagel’s disastrous confirmation hearing, Politico raised the issue of Hagel’s lack of qualifications for the job:

There’s not much on Chuck Hagel’s résumé that screams secretary of defense.

He’s not a former White House chief of staff, like Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld. He never ran the CIA, like Leon Panetta or Robert Gates. He never worked inside the Pentagon.

There’s one main job on his résumé — politician — and for Hagel, that’s the problem. …

Defense experts say Hagel, if confirmed, will face major challenges in wrangling a sprawling institution and working with partners to implement President Barack Obama’s policies. That would be the case for anyone taking the top civilian defense post, but Hagel would walk in without the bureaucratic expertise of his predecessors.

“America is at a delicate moment of transition in defense policy and spending,” said Pete Hegseth, CEO of Concerned Veterans for America. “Sen. Hagel has not proposed serious alternatives during these, or other, defense policy fights; nor has he made any significant contribution — either in office or out — to the even more fundamental questions about the future of U.S. defense posture, the shape and function of the defense establishment, or chronic and complicated spending problems at the Pentagon.”

Just hours later, Hagel imploded in his confirmation hearing, getting basic policy toward Iran wrong twice and having to be corrected by Democrat Carl Levin, and leaving the distinct impression that not only was Hagel unprepared to answer questions about defense policy and systems, but that he hadn’t even bothered to cram for his big exam.  Instead, he tried running away from nearly every public statement he made over the last ten years, and finished his pitch by admitting that he didn’t know much about the job for which he wanted Senate confirmation.

Usually, the Senate doesn’t insist on finding the best person for the job; they want to give the President as much room as possible to appoint people who will follow his policies.  They still want someone who is qualified for the job, and Hagel’s confirmation hearing performance makes a mockery of that claim.  Senate Democrats must be wondering whether the White House will insist on embarrassing them by forcing them to support Hagel — and so far, the answer to that fundamental question is still an emphatic yes.


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