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Hagel Temporarily Blocked, Paul Permanently Damaged

The attempt to invoke cloture this afternoon on the debate over Hagel’s nomination failed 58-40 (with the majority leader voting no in order to be able to reconsider the motion at a later time). When Hagel’s name was first floated as a possible nominee, I thought it would have been extraordinary if half that many Republicans opposed him, but I underestimated the degree to which most Senate Republicans remain bound to their party’s disastrous foreign policy record from the last decade. The absurdity of the procedural vote today was even greater because it was widely understood that some of the Senators voting against cloture today would vote for it the next time. The final vote to confirm has been delayed to make a point, but as to the point being made it remains elusive. Unless something entirely unexpected happens in the next week, Hagel will eventually be confirmed, these delaying tactics will have harmed no one but the Republicans engaged in them, and Republicans will have lost a high-profile battle that they never needed to fight. The vote this afternoon was an unmistakable sign that the chances of Republican foreign policy reform in the near term are not very good.

The most disappointing vote was Rand Paul’s decision to vote no. It was bad enough that Sen. Paul chose to side with the people who loathe the foreign policy of restraint he was describing last week, but what made it even worse is that a yes vote from Paul would have concluded this drawn-out farce of a confirmation process and allowed the Senate to vote on the nomination itself. Four other Republicans voted for cloture, and none of them had just given a speech outlining an argument for a “more restrained foreign policy.” If any Republican in the Senate should have rejected the extraordinary filibuster of a Cabinet nominee, it ought to have been Paul.

Sen. Paul could have been the deciding vote to clear the way for Hagel’s confirmation, but instead he opted to vote the other way, and the justification he gave may have been the worst of all. If Paul had some irreconcilable disagreement with Hagel on principle or policy, it would have at least made sense to vote as he did. Instead, Paul endorsed one of the worst, least credible anti-Hagel arguments of all, which is essentially the Ted Cruz argument that Hagel needs to “prove” that he is not in league with foreign governments or sympathetic with terrorists. If he ended up voting yes on the nomination, Paul could repair some of the damage with antiwar conservatives and libertarians, and he could make good on his claim to being a realist, but most of the damage will likely be permanent.

I should add that it isn’t just the Hagel vote that has alienated Sen. Paul’s potential supporters. Sen. Paul has voted for cruel, ineffective Iran sanctions, and a lot of antiwar conservatives were willing to cut him some slack on the grounds that he was still opposed to war with Iran. He offered an entirely unnecessary security guarantee to Israel, and many of his potential supporters were still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Voting to block Hagel was the final straw [1] for a lot of people, but it’s important to understand that this reaction is not limited to dissatisfaction with today’s vote. The decision to vote with his party to block Hagel is part of a pattern of bad calls that Sen. Paul has made in recent months, and in each of these he has ended up siding with people who hate restraint and prudence in foreign policy and who also hate Hagel because he represented some measure of both.

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60 Comments To "Hagel Temporarily Blocked, Paul Permanently Damaged"

#1 Comment By Jake On February 16, 2013 @ 6:40 pm

Adios, Paul.

#2 Comment By Avi Marranazo On February 17, 2013 @ 5:41 am

What a disappointment Rand Paul is turning out to be. I’ve already ‘unliked” him on Fb. At this point, it seems his father can do more good as a private civilian than Rand can in the Senate.

#3 Comment By wufnik On February 17, 2013 @ 2:47 pm

Honestly, the only real surprise here is that everyone seems surprised that Paul is prepared to sacrifice his core “beliefs” for the same of grandstanding. He’s made a career of this, which has been overlooked on the grounds that he says the right things from time to time. Gosh, he turns out to be another jerk. Disappointing for some, surely, but not a surprise to the rest of us.

#4 Comment By Jacob On February 17, 2013 @ 6:10 pm

Part of me wishes that Rand Paul would be as ideologically rigid and fearless as his father. The other part of me realizes that the only way for a realist foreign policy to become a reality in the Republican Party is for Rand Paul to use the manipulation and cunning of his Senate mentor Jim Demint to get his world view through the Senate. His vote against cloture placates the neocons and really has no effect on whether Hagel will ultimately be confirmed. Rand Paul wants Hagel as Secretary of Defense, but it’s politically smarter to move diagonally instead of head on.

#5 Comment By Dimitry Aleksandrovich On February 17, 2013 @ 7:52 pm

The younger Paul is drinking from the neocon chalice with the hope of expanding his base.

#6 Comment By james Thurber On February 17, 2013 @ 8:11 pm

Just because we want to believe ‘Like father, like son’, doesn’t make it so. Rand Paul is his own man and will stand or fall on his merits, not his fathers.

#7 Comment By arrScott On February 18, 2013 @ 6:58 am

What basis did anyone have for expectations of Senator Paul that could now be disappointed? He had held no office before election to the U.S. Senate. Hopefully, at least some Paul-family enthusiasts will learn one of several pertinent lessons, such as Political opinions are not immutably inherited characteristics passed from father to son, or Lack of evidence that a cipher disagrees with you is not evidence that he shares your values.

People who vote for candidates out of family loyalty, or who assume beliefs not demonstrated by a prior record of service, deserve the disappointment they inevitably experience, whether it comes from a George W or a Rand.

#8 Comment By William On February 19, 2013 @ 10:06 am

Rand Paul is not only just a senator from any state, he is a senator from Kentucky. He is doing what he can given political reality, and that should be enough to avoid all the damn boycotts. If he took the line some of you are advocating, he would be a 1 term senator, ousted by the Graysons of KY politics. Then what? What great hope would you guys ally yourselves to? Paul’s vote is really no different than when Ron Paul made little googoo eyes at some embarrassing and reactionary elements of the right earlier in his career. Remember all the letters that were briefly brought out again during the last primary? Same damn thing for Ron, but most of you came back. Why? Because he is the best hope. Not everybody can be Justin Raimondo, futily railing against war in the wilderness. Some people actually want to make an impact. Now quit your whining, and stop being so damn paranoid. If you wanted to change things, this is always what it was going to have to look like. There are no pure revolutions.

#9 Comment By Robert Bruce On February 20, 2013 @ 9:49 pm

C’mon, the guy was riding his dad’s coattails all along, and was able to get into the Senate. I doubt he is going to last long in the Senate. He might get reelected, but atthis point I doubt it. Many folks that voted him in will just stay home or not vote for the Senate seat next time around. It is also time to realize that Ron Paul was nothing more than a political cul de sac for genuine limited govt conservatives/libertarians. The guy has all the right ideas, but as an electable candidate, he was horrible.

#10 Comment By Zach On February 21, 2013 @ 3:37 pm

I understand your loss of hope, but this boils down to “If Rand Paul was who we’d hoped he was he would have voted differently.”

I don’t think Rand is who you hoped he would be.