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Senate Republicans Squandered a Big Opportunity Yesterday to Help Their Party

Matt Duss reviews [1] yesterday’s spectacle and makes a good observation:

Any hopes that Republicans might be embracing a new reasonableness in the wake of their Election Day drubbing will have to be put off. They evinced a level of disdain for the nominee that I don’t recall ever seeing in a similar hearing [bold mine-DL].

It’s that seething disdain for Hagel that is so remarkable. Republican hard-liners have contributed to their party’s defeats in three of the last four elections, and they inflicted long-term damage on their party’s reputation on foreign policy by embracing the biggest foreign policy blunder in a generation, and now they are furious with Hagel because he’s one of the few national Republicans to recognize reality. McCain’s obsession with insisting on the rightness of the “surge” that failed on the Bush administration’s own terms is one example of this refusal to cope with reality.

If it were just McCain doing this, we could dismiss it as part of a long pattern of his embittered reactions to past political defeats. The amazing thing is that virtually every Republican member of the committee yesterday pretended to be just as incensed and outraged by Hagel as McCain was. Four of the Republican members are new Senators elected in 2010 or last year, and in some respects the new members were worse than McCain in trying to prove their hard-line credentials. Senate Republicans had an opportunity yesterday to demonstrate that they had learned something from the failures of the Bush era and the folly of hard-line policies, and they threw it away without giving it a moment’s thought.

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40 Comments To "Senate Republicans Squandered a Big Opportunity Yesterday to Help Their Party"

#1 Comment By Josh DeCuir On February 1, 2013 @ 10:39 am

Does it REALLY eclipse the “level of disdain” for Robert Bork? Miguel Estrada? Sam Alito (remember when our current VP tried to smear him as a racist)?

I mean come on – to claim that this “level of disdain” is greater than any previous nomination hearing is a outrageously silly proposition.

Put aside your substantive disagreements and look at what you are saying. To be clear, I lament both the basis of many of the attacks against Hagel & the hardening neo-con position of so many on the Committee, but to claim that his treatment yesterday was somehow unparalleled is, again, an argument unworthy of consideration.

When Chris Cillizza more accurately describes the hearing, you might want to re-consider your take: “Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel was, at turns, halting, befuddled and, often, just plain bad during his confirmation hearing to be the next Secretary of Defense. ”
[2]

#2 Comment By Daniel Larison On February 1, 2013 @ 10:43 am

Duss is talking about Cabinet nominees, and so am I. Cabinet nominees haven’t been treated like Supreme Court nominees before now. That is what is different this time. Yes, Hagel was treated more shabbily (at least by members of his own party) than any other major Cabinet nominee in living memory.

#3 Comment By Josh DeCuir On February 1, 2013 @ 10:52 am

And the significant distinction in this case between a Cabinet nominee and a President’s other nominations is?

#4 Comment By Andrew On February 1, 2013 @ 10:54 am

If it were just McCain doing this, we could dismiss it as part of a long pattern of his embittered reactions to past political defeats

My impression is that he is simply a bitter and angry man from the get go, probably even before his unfortunate time in Hanoi Hilton. He is in the politics for a reason of his personal crusades, it seems, and his defeats are merely an extension and a symptom of his personal issues. But I could be wrong, of course. Being nice is not a criteria which should be applied to the world of politics. Yet, McCain himself seems to be the embodiment of what is wrong with GOP.

#5 Comment By Daniel Larison On February 1, 2013 @ 10:54 am

Major Cabinet nominees have been treated differently for a long time, especially when they are former members of the Senate. They are normally treated with a much greater degree of deference than lower-level appointees. They aren’t berated and hounded for hours on end. That should be obvious.

#6 Comment By Charlie On February 1, 2013 @ 11:03 am

And the significant distinction in this case between a Cabinet nominee and a President’s other nominations is?

I don’t like the way judicial nominees are treated, since they’re subjected to a political circus and senators try to bait them into making commitments about how they’ll vote when particular issues come before the court (this happens to Supreme Court nominees, but also, with less publicity, to nominees for the courts of appeal).

That said, I can see why a more rigorous and skeptical confirmation process makes sense in those cases. Federal judges serve for life and are part of a branch of government that has a free hand to permanently invalidate decisions and policies of the other two branches. A cabinet official can’t be fired by Congress once confirmed, but he or she is subject to all kinds of political pressure and has a politically-sensitive boss telling him or her what to do.

That’s basically why I think the attacks on Hagel would only make sense if they were attacking his baseline competence to manage the national security bureaucracy. Spending an entire day acting like a bunch of babies, basically asking, “Why did you imply mean things about us the other year?” just reconfirms that the Senate is full of mean-spirited, self-aggrandizing clowns.

#7 Comment By collin On February 1, 2013 @ 11:04 am

Yesterday was a complete freckin’ trainwreck for everybody involved and frankly it is hard to support Hagel with such a bad interview. Did the Obama administration not prep Hagel on this one? They had to know this was going to be blood bath going in and Hagel need a load of prepping. His answers were awful and the neocons went for blood. Although most Americans don’t care about foreign policy, but Rs, including former libertarian Rand Paul, care only about Israel.

In disapointment, did not one person question about the possibility of increase drones by the US and other countries? Over the next 10 years, I got assume other countries are going to catch up with our drone technology and it would be nice know what Hagel’s thoughts are.

CR

#8 Comment By Mike On February 1, 2013 @ 11:13 am

Senator Ayotte was a particular disappointment. She completely missed the message of the last election and came across as the lawyer for the Republican jihadists (McCain & Graham) agitating for more war in the Middle East.

Americans have had enough of the Republican’s holy wars. Mitt Romney realized this (much too late) as evidenced by his frequent use of the word “peace” in the final presidential debate. How did Ayotte miss this? She should have distinguished herself on a national stage from her rude and belligerent colleagues.

The embarrassing performance of the senate armed service committee republicans validates the American people’s decision to not trust Mitt & the republican party on foreign policy.

#9 Comment By Jim Atherton On February 1, 2013 @ 11:15 am

In fairness never has a party turncoat as vociferous as Hagel been nominated. Turncoats bring out the worst in other people especially in team sports like politics. Maybe paleocons will take a good lesson from this next time you want something really badly, a girl a cabinet minister same principle holds, play it cool don’t post eighteen post about.

#10 Comment By Josh DeCuir On February 1, 2013 @ 11:16 am

It is far from obvious to me. Again, I think Hagel should be confirmed, but I saw nothing in his treatment that was particularly unique (at least outside of the partisan kabuki dances these type of things have devolved too), and find the apparently self-evident proposition that based on his past job he should have been accorded tea and biscuits instead bizarre. Given the massive regulatory power federal departments now exercise, why shouldn’t we berate and hound them? I sure wish I’d have known Kathleen Sebelius’s views on religious liberty, for example.

To his credit, Duss himself acknowledges that, whatever the behavior of the GOP senators means, Hagel’s performance was fairly awful, largely because he repeated what they wanted to hear. And if part of the reasoning for nominating Hagel is his speaking truth to power regarding the surge, etc., shouldn’t his newfound sheepishness cause some pause? If the positions of the GOP are as politically disastrous as you suggest, shouldn’t it have been a win for Hagel to continue his tough-talking stance rather than kow-towing to them?

#11 Comment By Dan Phillips On February 1, 2013 @ 11:17 am

So how did Hagel do? I didn’t see the hearings but the reports I am reading say he struggled and looked bad, but I don’t know if that is just the source.

How did Rand Paul look?

#12 Comment By Dan Phillips On February 1, 2013 @ 11:20 am

Just now reading the post below where you answer my question above.

#13 Comment By EngineerScotty On February 1, 2013 @ 11:30 am

And the significant distinction in this case between a Cabinet nominee and a President’s other nominations is?

Cabinet nominees serve at the pleasure of the President, implement policy (in many cases) as directed by the President, and are usually replaced when a new president comes into power. It is commonplace for many cabinet members to only serve a single term in a two-term administration.

Judges and justices, on the other hand, serve at their own pleasure unless impeached and convicted for wrongdoing, have lifetime tenure, and do not answer to the political branches once confirmed.

Some commissioners appointed by the President also do not serve at his pleasure once confirmed, though generally these offices have limited tenure.

But the bottom line difference between a Cabinet officer (or lower-ranking administrator) and a judge or commish is that the President remains the boss of the former.

#14 Comment By Sharculese On February 1, 2013 @ 12:11 pm

In fairness never has a party turncoat as vociferous as Hagel been nominated.

This is just silly. Disagree with Hagel on our military adventures if you want to (you’d be mostly wrong, but your free too) but you can do that without bleating about treason, as if party loyalty were the most important characteristic to look for in a Secretary of Defense.

Maybe paleocons will take a good lesson from this next time you want something really badly, a girl a cabinet minister same principle holds, play it cool don’t post eighteen post about.

Yes. Chuck Hagel did badly because of blog posts. This is a statement that has a relationship with reality. It is not in any way juvenile chest thumping.

#15 Comment By SDS On February 1, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

“In fairness never has a party turncoat as vociferous as Hagel been nominated.”

Spoken like a true believer…..

#16 Comment By Daniel Larison On February 1, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

“Chuck Hagel did badly because of blog posts.”

I agree this is a silly idea. Barring a filibuster, Hagel will be confirmed, and it will have had nothing to do with anything we’ve been saying here. It will be because Hagel was qualified to do the job and enough of his former colleagues understood that. As for party turncoats, would Lieberman have been treated this badly by his former colleagues if he had been selected for a Cabinet position? Somehow, I doubt it. The party loyalty argument is just a bad excuse for lousy behavior.

#17 Comment By Sharculese On February 1, 2013 @ 12:27 pm

As for party turncoats, would Lieberman have been treated this badly by his former colleagues if he had been selected for a Cabinet position?

Well, he may not have ever been nominated for a cabinet position, but we do have the example of post-2008 when a lot of people on the left wanted to see him punished for supporting McCain (far more extraordinary behavior than agreeing to serve in the opposing party’s Cabinet), and the Democratic leadership declined to do so.

#18 Comment By IanH On February 1, 2013 @ 12:57 pm

“we do have the example of post-2008 when a lot of people on the left wanted to see him punished for supporting McCain”

Yeah, but that never translated into any sort of action from his colleagues.

#19 Comment By collin On February 1, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

Would have they turned against Liebermann? If McCain won (watching yesterday reminds me I glad Obama won in 2008!) and he nominated Liebermann as Secretary Of State, then they might have treated him as poorly as the Rs did yesterday. The left blogosphere has given Lieberman heck over the years. My guess the Senate behavior was a reflection of sore losers and validating neocon positions along with a poor answers.

#20 Comment By James Canning On February 1, 2013 @ 1:23 pm

I think History will see the “surge” in Iraq as a hugely expensive blunder. Hundreds of billions spent on a programme that obviated the need to make deals with Syria and Iran. Deals that were in the best interests of the American people. Even if the ISRAEL LOBBY prefered the US not have normal relations with Iran, and not to have an American ambassador in Damascus.

Chuck Hagel was quite right to oppose the surge in Iraq.

#21 Comment By James Canning On February 1, 2013 @ 1:28 pm

The Financial Times report on the Hagel hearing properly notes the grandstanding by foolish Republicans.

#22 Comment By Sharculese On February 1, 2013 @ 1:32 pm

@IanH

Yeah, but that never translated into any sort of action from his colleagues.

Well yeah, that was sort of my point. Not exactly the same scenario, but similar in relevant details.

@collin

That’s a good point and something worth contemplating. I suppose we might get the chance to find out in the unthinkable and highly improbably event of a Lindsey Graham presidency.

#23 Comment By DavidT On February 1, 2013 @ 1:46 pm

“Barring a filibuster, Hagel will be confirmed.”

Why in the world do you think Republicans won’t filibuster Hagel? The filibuster has become an automatic supermajority requirement. Can you name one recent measure that has passed, or appointee that has been confirmed, with less than 60 votes?

#24 Comment By Noah172 On February 1, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

Daniel wrote:

Yes, Hagel was treated more shabbily (at least by members of his own party) than any other major Cabinet nominee in living memory.

Major Cabinet nominees have been treated differently for a long time, especially when they are former members of the Senate.

John Ashcroft’s nomination as AG was acrimonious, and he was a Senator. He managed to get the votes of only 8 of 50 Democratic Senators — with his replacement as Missouri Senator, Mrs. Carnahan, voting nay.

Granted, that was somewhat different from this case in that Ashcroft met straightforward partisan opposition — he was a conservative Republican nominated by a Republican President opposed by most, especially the most liberal, Democrats. This Hagel business is more nuanced in that he is a cross-partisan nomination opposed by the most ideological elements of his own party, from which he has been estranged for a few years.

#25 Comment By Rob in CT On February 1, 2013 @ 1:51 pm

The more I think about it, the more it irritates me that Hagel was unable to forcefully respond to the nonsense thrown at him. It’s like he prepped for “go in, take some crap, play possum and it’ll be fine.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

#1 – the bully smells blood now
#2 – this nonsense desperately needs to be rebutted. This was an opportunity to do so. Opportunity missed.

#26 Comment By James Canning On February 1, 2013 @ 2:10 pm

Jim Atherton – – What is “turncoat” about Chuck Hagel? Are you saying he fails to promote idiotic military adventures in the Middle East?

#27 Comment By James Canning On February 1, 2013 @ 2:12 pm

BBC America reported last night in the US that foolish Republican senators were grandstanding, during the Hagel hearing.

#28 Comment By sglover On February 1, 2013 @ 2:20 pm

“When Chris Cillizza more accurately describes the hearing, you might want to re-consider your take: ‘Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel was, at turns, halting, befuddled and, often, just plain bad during his confirmation hearing to be the next Secretary of Defense. ‘”

Why do I think that if Hagel had been more forthright and aggressive, Cillizza and clowns like him would be clucking about his “defensiveness”, or some such vacuity? McCain and the other dwarves badgering Hagel were performing for Beltway stenographers like Cilliza. Antics like this are all that Cilliza and his fellow clown Milbank can understand.

Meanwhile, outside of the locker rooms of the Washington Post, I suspect that any sentient adult listening to McCain’s Queeg impression didn’t come away from it thinking that Hagel was the loser.

#29 Comment By sglover On February 1, 2013 @ 2:30 pm

collin opines:

“Would have they turned against Liebermann? If McCain won (watching yesterday reminds me I glad Obama won in 2008!) and he nominated Liebermann as Secretary Of State, then they might have treated him as poorly as the Rs did yesterday. The left blogosphere has given Lieberman heck over the years. My guess the Senate behavior was a reflection of sore losers and validating neocon positions along with a poor answers.”

This is ridiculous. When Lieberman lost his last primary, i.e., when **voters** in **his own party** (correctly) ruled him unfit to represent Connecticut, national-level Dems fell all over themselves to help — Lieberman!!

Lieberman was treated with remarkable, undeserved delicacy by the Dems, even after years of breaking the party line, even after a convincing rejection by party rank and file.

#30 Comment By cka2nd On February 1, 2013 @ 2:33 pm

Perhaps Hagal should have pulled a Hillary and given as good as he got?

#31 Comment By HyperIon On February 1, 2013 @ 2:50 pm

DavidT wrote: Why in the world do you think Republicans won’t filibuster Hagel?

Because not all Rs are foolish?
I know: that’s a dangerous assumption.

#32 Comment By Victory over Eurasia On February 1, 2013 @ 3:18 pm

How long will it be until Hagel will re-align his party affiliation from Repub to Dem? It would not be hard to believe that thse types of theatrics (the Benghazi hearings, the Hagel nomination, reaction to Justice Roberts’ ACA decision) servce to further drive a wedge between between the rationals and the nutters. Ted Cruz, Mario Rubio etc are the future of the GOP, and that must be pretty depresssing for any thinking conservative.

#33 Comment By astorian On February 1, 2013 @ 4:09 pm

Daniel – rage at the neocons all you want, but it doesn’t change the FACT that Hagel’s performance was pathetic. He was lost, confused and befuddled, and LOOKED like an idiot.

Sarah Palin’s fans did her no tabors by blaming her fumbling performances on Katie Couric and YOU do Havel no favord by pretending his stupidity is John McCain’s fault.

#34 Comment By Daniel Larison On February 1, 2013 @ 4:15 pm

Yes, it was a terrible performance, which I have acknowledged here and elsewhere several times. So that’s not relevant to anything I have written about this. Comparisons to Sarah Palin are absurd. Hagel isn’t stupid or uninformed. He has demonstrated his understanding of the relevant issues on many other occasions. He had an awful day giving testimony. The poor performance shouldn’t be minimized, but it shouldn’t be treated as anything more than it is.

#35 Comment By cka2nd On February 1, 2013 @ 4:45 pm

It sounds as if Hagel’s performance was similar to Obama’s in the first debate with Romney, perhaps because both of them tried to be overly accomodating to their opponents.

#36 Comment By Sean Scallon On February 1, 2013 @ 7:30 pm

Unfortunately for the GOP when John Hagee talks and the neocons write and Sheldon Adelson spends, its elected officials pay more attention to what they require than what the public requires, let alone our little corner of the world. Republicans can lose elections but not conservatives. Republicans make political miscalculations but not conservatives. Republicans can buy fallacies but not conservatives. So Iraq was a big success worty of a ticker-tape parade for Gen. Petraeus, Israel is a member of NATO and Ted Cruz’s election in a one-party state cancels out Obama’s election nationally. What you saw yesterday is the truths they held to be self-evident…. to themselves.

#37 Comment By james Thurber On February 1, 2013 @ 10:33 pm

John McCain seems to have moved off planet earth. His behaviour on television was breathtakingly stupid. How did he ever get elected?

#38 Comment By James Canning On February 3, 2013 @ 1:04 pm

Daniel makes important point that four new Republican senators seemed to determined to act even more stupidly than John McCain, to prove their credentials.

#39 Comment By James Canning On February 3, 2013 @ 1:08 pm

I wonder if any of the grandstanding Republican senators understand the blunders of the German Empire that brought catastrophe to the German people. Specifically, the fantasy of the Prussian General Staff that Russia was a growing “threat” and that German generals needed to manipulate the situation after the assassination of Franz-Ferdinand (June 1914) to bring on a European War.

Iran is a “threat”?

#40 Comment By Don Anastas On February 4, 2013 @ 10:24 am

Is it supposed to be carte blanche for any nominee, especially someone as flawed as Hagel.

And really, what damage was done to an unprepared nominee who seemed like he either didn’t want the job or merely thought he is entitled to it?

Hagel is a flawed candidate and if Republicans were more hard-lined maybe they wouldn’t have spent us into debt, surpassed only by Obama and his ilk.

A tough stance is something hardly seen by the GOP. They caved to increased taxes, 26 GOP Senators thought a hardline on Egypt was too much so voted to send F-16s and Abrams tanks.

Crossing the Ts and dotting the Is with hard-line questions and toughness is something they need to do when voting on legislation instead of holding hands with Democrats and singing Kumbaya.