The 60th vote: Republican Richard Shelby to vote for cloture on Hagel; Update: Deb Fischer too?

And so, after days of accusations about what Hagel did or didn’t say at Rutgers Israeli control of the State Department, and despite the nominee’s refusal to let reporters pick through his archives, this guy’s actually gaining votes in the Senate rather than losing them.

I understand the argument that the president deserves deference in his cabinet picks, even if I don’t agree with it in this case. But if we’re going to cave, can we at least not sugarcoat Hagel’s incompetence? This is pure garbage from Shelby:

Shelby said he has concerns about former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s nominee for Sectary of Defense, but he plans to vote for him and expects the Senate to confirm the nomination.

“He’s probably as good as we’re going to get,” Shelby said.

No one in the mainstream of either party believes that — Flournoy or Ash Carter would likely be less objectionable to both sides — but we always knew that Hagel would sail through on the next cloture vote (barring any stupendous new revelations) and now here’s confirmation. Johanns, Cochran, Collins, Murkowski and now Shelby plus 55 Democrats equals cloture. Which makes this letter to the White House from John Cornyn, co-signed by 14 other Republicans, almost poignant in its impotence:

“While we respect Senator Hagel’s honorable military service, in the interest of national security, we respectfully request that you withdraw his nomination. It would be unprecedented for a Secretary of Defense to take office without the broad base of bipartisan support and confidence needed to serve effectively in this critical position.

“Senator Hagel’s performance at his confirmation hearing was deeply concerning, leading to serious doubts about his basic competence to meet the substantial demands of the office. While Senator Hagel’s erratic record and myriad conversions on key national security issues are troubling enough, his statements regarding Iran were disconcerting.”

The letter is signed by Sens. Cornyn, Inhofe (R-OK), Graham (R-SC), Wicker (R-MS), Vitter (R-LA), Cruz (R-TX), Lee (R-UT), Toomey (R-PA), Rubio (R-FL), Coats (R-IN), R. Johnson (R – WI), Risch (R-ID), Barrasso (R-WY), Coburn (R-OK), Scott (R-SC). The full text is attached and provided below.

Dave Weigel’s right to snicker at Cornyn’s attempt to move the goalposts over what constitutes a “broad base of bipartisan support.” Just 15 of 45 Senate Republicans were willing to go on record as unalterably opposed to Hagel’s nomination by signing here. Among those who didn’t: McCain, Kelly Ayotte, and Rand Paul. The final vote on Hagel might be party-line, more or less, but at this point I won’t be surprised to see 70+ votes for cloture. But maybe at this point that’s for the best. If you think O’s determined to fulfill his long-held ambition of cutting defense funding in his second term and you disagree with that policy, then you’re likely better off with a guy at the top of the Pentagon who’s politically weak and regarded as a bit dim. Hagel is, I suspect, destined to be a rubber stamp for the White House’s foreign policy and military strategy so he probably won’t do much damage independently apart from the occasional ad lib about Jews. America wanted four more years of “smart power,” now they’re going to get Chuck Hagel as its face. Viva democracy.

Update: Like I say, 70+ votes for cloture: