Senate Republicans have at least temporarily blocked the confirmation of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense. Democrats' cloture motion to proceed to an up-or-down vote failed 58-40, with one Senator voting "present." Achieving cloture requires 60 votes. Let's be candid: Hagel (a Republican) is unqualified for this job, which is arguably the most important position in a presidential cabinet. He all but admitted as much during his disastrous Senate hearings last month:
During prickly exchanges with his former Senate colleagues, Hagel downplayed and "clarified" previous denunciations of the, er, "Jewish lobby," which he once accused of regularly "intimidating" members of Congress. He also butchered the administration's position on a nuclear Iran, twice getting his facts wrong. Eventually a sympathetic Democrat was forced to step in and rescue the floundering witness:
Matters didn't improve when Mr. Hagel announced, regarding Iran's nuclear capacity, that he supported the president's strong position on "containment." But the administration's policy is not, as Mr. Hagel apparently had yet to learn, containment—it is to prevent Iran's development of nuclear arms. Nudged by a note handed him by an aide, the nominee corrected himself and declared that in fact the U.S. doesn't have a policy on containment. This was one misstatement too many for Carl Levin—the committee chairman, a Democrat and supporter of Mr. Hagel's nomination—who ended the discussion with his own terse correction: "We do have a position on containment, and that is we do not favor containment."
Even many Democrats and media commentators didn't bother sugarcoating Hagel's dreadful performance. Republicans have continued to hammer away at Hagel for his record on Israel, Iran, and terrorism -- including votes against tougher sanctions on the Iranian regime and a refusal to classify Iran's revolutionary guard as a terrorist organization. Hagel was also the only US Senator who declined to sign a statement decrying anti-Semitism in Russia, though he says his refusal to sign had nothing to do with the content of the letter. Just today, another blast from Hagel's rhetorical past came to light:
Fox News Channel on Tuesday reported that secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel failed to disclose to the United States Senate speeches delivered to controversial groups such as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee as well as James Zogby’s Arab American Institute. Meanwhile, a 2007 speech then-Sen. Hagel delivered at Rutgers University in New Jersey as he tested the waters for a presidential run is drawing fresh scrutiny. Hagel said the U.S. Department of State was an adjunct of the Israeli foreign minister’s office, according to a contemporaneous report of the event.
President Obama's nominee for Secretary of Defense is testy about the influence of the "Jewish lobby" and basically said that the State Department is run by Israel. The government of Iran has effectively endorsed his nomination. Opponents of the nomination are demanding more financial disclosures from Hagel, particularly regarding foreign income; the White House is fighting these calls for increased transparency, as are many Congressional Democrats who once demanded similar information from Bush appointees. In short, Hagel is an incompetent who was utterly unprepared for his confirmation hearings, has demonstrated an enduring hostility towards Israel and possibly Jews generally, and has a voting record that's worrisomely soft on outlaw regimes that threaten our security. And yet he enjoys universal support among Senate Democrats, whose only apparent standard for a evaluating a nominee for a critical position is whether or not the man who picked him is named 'Barack Obama.' It's widely believed, incidentally, that the president is high on Hagel because he'll provide some helpful bipartisan gloss when Obama makes deep military cuts. Which brings us to another disquieting moment of candor: Unless Republicans can unearth additional damaging oppo research on Hagel, he will be confirmed sooner or later. Parting thought, via Allahpundit:
Serious question: If Hagel doesn’t deserve to be blocked, who does? His opponents have seized on his anti-Israel rhetoric, more of which emerges every week, but as contemptible as it is, I don’t think that’s reason to filibuster. Democrats are right when they say that the president deserves wide latitude in choosing his cabinet; if The One wants to bear the political consequences of appointing a guy known for babbling about the “Jewish lobby,” that’s on him. The reason to block Hagel is that he’s manifestly unprepared for the job and isn’t all that shy about admitting it. When concerns about a nominee shift from political disagreement to questions about his basic competence then the “advise and consent” role should require stopping the nomination even with a filibuster. At that point it’s no longer a dispute over foreign policy, it’s about protecting the military from mismanagement. Typically you don’t worry about a president putting the Senate in a position like that but Obama wants his Republican rubber-stamp nominee so he’s willing to skimp on qualifications. He deserves to have a pick this cynical blocked.
UPDATE - Harry Reid reacted to the cloture failure by grumpily carrying on about how Republicans' obstructionism has caused a crisis by leaving the nation with no acting Secretary of Defense. Unsurprisingly, this is a lie. Reid voted 'no' with Republicans, a procedural manuever that allows him to call a follow-up vote in the coming days.
UPDATE II - Some Republican Senators are now pledging to allow a vote on Hagel next week. Meanwhile, Jennifer Rubin has video of Hagel giving a speech to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination League in which he complains about the United States trying to "dictate" to Iran over its illegal nuclear program. Rubin replies: "We can’t 'dictate' to Iran? We are of course attempting to enforce multiple United Nations sanctions and resolutions of which Iran is in violation. Does he take the side of Iran, that it has a 'right' to pursue its nuclear weapons program?"