Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Kabuki Dance of Chuck Hagel

The Valentine's Day vote in the United States Senate speaks not to the qualifications of Chuck Hagel to serve as secretary of defense, but instead to the insane theatrical performance that the branch of government created under Article 1 of the Constitution has mutated into.

The Kabuki Dance of Chuck Hagel

FILE - In this Jan. 31, 2013 file photo, former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington before the Senate Armed Services Committee´s confirmation hearing. Countering the Republican-led opposition to President Barack Obama´s nominee for defense secretary is a less flashy but powerful constituency _ military veterans. Longstanding veterans´ organizations have praised Hagel, a twice-wounded combat veteran of Vietnam and deputy administrator in President Ronald Reagan´s Veterans Administration. (AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 31, 2013 file photo, former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington before the Senate Armed Services Committee's confirmation hearing. Countering the Republican-led opposition to President Barack Obama's nominee for defense secretary is a less flashy but powerful constituency _ military veterans. Longstanding veterans' organizations have praised Hagel, a twice-wounded combat veteran of Vietnam and deputy administrator in President Ronald Reagan's Veterans Administration. (AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The Valentine’s Day vote in the United States Senate speaks not to the qualifications of Chuck Hagel to serve as secretary of defense, but instead to the insane theatrical performance that the branch of government created under Article 1 of the Constitution has mutated into.

By a single vote -- Harry Reid had to cast a procedural vote against the nomination to reserve the right to bring it to the floor again  -- Republicans chose to delay Chuck Hagel’s nomination.

After the Presidents’ Day recess, Chuck Hagel will be confirmed when 59 votes magically become 61. Both Lindsey Graham and Lamar Alexander have stated they will then vote to move the nomination to the floor, and it is likely that many more Republicans will follow their lead.

But the tantrum around Chuck Hagel’s nomination was never about substance, as evidenced by GOP goal posts that float freely, unmoored to reason. This afternoon, Barack Obama answered questions about Benghazi in a letter to the Committee on Armed Services, giving the answers demanded by John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Kelly Ayotte. Both Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta testified before the relevant committees on the matter, and Hagel’s 2008 mystery speech that right-wing blogs had been obsessing about has been released. Of course nothing on the tape will impact the nomination.

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Back in 2005, while working for Harry Reid, I spent far too much time listening to Republicans self-righteously proclaim the moral necessity of up-or-down votes. In this case, there are at least 57 members of the Senate who favor the nomination of Chuck Hagel.

ThinkProgress.org dug up some of those statements. They reveal the ultimate hypocrisy of the GOP:

Mitch McConnell: “I think the President is entitled to an up-or-down — that is simple majority — vote on nominations, both to his cabinet and to the executive branch and also to the judiciary.”

John Cornyn: “Senators have a right to vote for or against any nominee—but blocking votes on nominations is unacceptable.”

Jeff Sessions: “The vote, historically, since the founding of this Republic, is a majority vote. Lets [sic] look at that. The Constitution says that the Congress shall advise and consent on treaties, provided two-thirds agree, and shall advise and consent on judges and other nominees.”

All three have proven themselves either liars, hypocrites or wimps. As Harry Reid pointed out on the Senate floor today:

“People are worried about primary elections. We know how the Tea Party goes after Republicans when they aren’t conservative enough. Is that something they need to have on their resume? ‘I filibustered one of the president’s nominees.’ Is that what they want?”

Republicans did not cast these votes today because Chuck Hagel was unfit for the position of secretary of defense. Do these same senators believe he will magically attain the necessary qualifications over the next week, when their votes will suddenly change?

Republicans proved nothing about Chuck Hagel today. They did reveal their belief that their job in the Senate is not statesmanship, but playacting. Their play is more akin to the WWE than Shakespeare. The end of the match is pre-scripted, and they are just making the final moments more exciting for a select group, primarily in the Beltway, who care about their shenanigans. (Some on the right hold out hope of a last-minute revelation that will sink the nomination. That is highly unlikely, but expect the kitchen sink to be thrown at Hagel next week.)

Ultimately, this game is bad for the Republican Party, as it shows the American people they are not to be taken seriously. But sadly, it’s worse for our democracy.   

Ari Rabin-Havt
About this blog
Ari Rabin-Havt is host of The Agenda, a nightly national radio program airing on SiriusXM 127. He is also a senior adviser to Media Matters and was on the faculty of the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. He is co-author of "The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine" and has served as an adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, former Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic National Committee and worked on John Kerry's presidential campaign. Reach Ari at TheAgendaAri@gmail.com.

Ari Rabin-Havt
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