So says Chuck Todd, underscoring the oddly pugnacious move today to nominate Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. Republicans clearly oppose the move, and that eliminates any benefit of bipartisanship. If Democrats don’t line up foursquare behind the pick, why make it at all?
Let’s take that as a baseline. That presumes that Obama has 43 votes from his own party on Hagel in the bag — hardly a rousing level of support for a Cabinet appointment, especially one as critical as Defense. Hagel would need eight votes from the GOP, a caucus which isn’t going to be inclined to ride to Obama’s rescue anyway, and certainly not for Hagel. Perhaps the White House thinks it has a better whip count than Chuck Todd, but Todd’s certainly correct that Democrats aren’t going out of their way to show any support for Hagel.
For instance, here’s Ben Cardin on Current TV, soon to be Al-Jazeera America, where Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) should feel free to let his support for Hagel show. Instead, Cardin insists that Hagel is going to have to answer some tough questions before he can expect the support of Democrats:
HOST: “First question to you, Senator, what do you think about the Chuck Hagel pick from the president?”
SEN. BEN CARDIN: “Well, I think it will be controversial. I hope most senators will take their responsibility to advise and consent and let the process move forward. Let’s go through the hearings. There are some statements that Senator Hagel has made that he needs to clarify. And we’ll see how the confirmation process proceeds if he’s nominated. But it will be controversial.”
HOST: “Do you think he’ll make it through, though, senator?”
SEN CARDIN: “You know, I am not – the answer is yes, I think he probably will. It’s not a foregone conclusion. The Republicans right now seemed to be well organized in opposition. There are Democrats including this senator who have questions that have to be answered before I can support him. The process is going to have to go forward if the president nominates him. That’s what the confirmation hearings should be about. It should be about putting on the record some of the statements he’s made, how he feels about Iran and sanctions, how he feels about U.S. policies towards Israel and the Middle East. I think all of those issues need to be on the record so the American people can hear Senator Hagel defend some of the charges that have been made. But quite frankly, I don’t think we should pre-judge this.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement there. Nor did the White House do much work into getting anyone to issue any over the weekend, as Jennifer Rubin points out:
It was noteworthy that, while leaking the Hagel nomination over the weekend, the administration lined up no support from Senate Democrats for the Sunday shows. As a result, Republicans including Cornyn, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) to one degree or another bashed Hagel while prominent Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) were entirely noncommittal. This morning both Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and potential New Jersey Senate candidate Mayor Cory Booker expressed concerns about Hagel. Offices of Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) would not provide comment despite our repeated attempts to ascertain the views of these critical Democrats. (Imagine the position they’d be in if 30 to 40 Senate Republicans voted no.) It seems they are hoping that Hagel will blow himself up before or during the hearing and they’ll be spared an actual vote when he limps off the stage. (Profiles in courage they are not.)
So why did Obama choose to appoint Hagel in the face of what looks like bipartisan opposition rather than bipartisan support? Jill Lawrence offers six reasons, at least four of which are hardly unique to Hagel: a solid ally at the Pentagon (what SecDef wouldn’t be to a President who appointed him?), bipartisanship (plenty of other Republicans from which to choose), like and trust each other (see “solid ally”), caution about military interventionism (a rather mainstream point of view, no?).
The only two here that look unique to Hagel are the first and last:
Obama does not want to be seen as caving twice to GOP attacks, Rice followed by Hagel.More importantly, he had a solid alternative for secretary of state in Sen. John Kerry. Hagel is unique in several ways, among them that he is a decorated Vietnam war veteran. The two other top candidates for defense secretary, Ashton Carter and Michele Flournoy, did not serve in the military.
Senators are sometimes inclined to give deference to their own in a confirmation process.But Hagel’s blunt run in public life has provoked discomfort and dismay among Republicans and Democrats alike. The former Nebraska senator has a lot of reassuring and convincing to do before he can count on winning that deference from former colleagues and others in the chamber he left four years ago.
As we see now, the latter reason looks moot. Basically, this is a fit of pique from Barack Obama, who damaged Susan Rice bad enough for her to have to withdraw her name from consideration at State, and who now wants to get a little payback. He might succeed in getting Hagel confirmed, but it’s going to cause a lot of damage to Democrats on Capitol Hill, and to American credibility on opposing the Iranian nuclear-weapons program.