Political Animal


February 15, 2013 11:10 AM Hagel Kabuki Consummated

By Ed Kilgore

On Tuesday I offered the less-than-revolutionary analysis that the Hagel nomination had descended into a Kabuki Theater of pointless posturing that would only delay his confirmation and allow certain Republican Senators and gabbers to score some intra-party points. Now we are at the terminal point of this process, as Dave Weigel observes at the end of “a long and stupid week:”

The Senate voted, by a 58-40 margin, to continue debate on Chuck Hagel’s nomination to run the Pentagon. (“Continuing debate” is nearly a figure of speech — the Senate’s heading home, and the arguments will continue off the floor, on TV and radio shows.) Shortly before the roll closed, there were 59 votes to end debate, one short of the 60 needed to continue. The margin only fell because Sen. Harry Reid switched, reserving the right to bring up the vote agains on February 26. Sen. Orrin Hatch decided to add a graf to every story by voting “present”; he’d told me yesterday that he “wasn’t there yet” on the nomination or the cloture question.
There is one sucker tonight: Chuck Hagel. He botched up his confirmation hearing, giving Republicans all kinds of reasons to oppose him. (In his “no” statement, Sen. Mark Kirk, who was never undecided on Hagel, continues to pretend that Hagel’s “elected” government of Iran gaffe was a window into his real thinking, as opposed to lazy verbiage.) He has to wait 12 days for the Senate to take up his nomination again. In that time, he has to endure more reports and rumors about his past speeches (nothing since “Jewish lobby” has damaged his chances so far), and he probably has to shut up, which seems difficult for him.
But for the first ever filibuster of a national security nominee — the first ever of one of the original cabinet positions inaugurated in 1789 — this thing really split the baby. Everybody seems to win something.

Wiegel goes on to note that the delay might be described as a “win” for Senate Republicans, who have humiliated Hagel; for Senate Democrats, who got to make Senate Republicans look irresponsible—and ultimately for the White House, which can look resolute in sticking with a nominee whose confirmation is more than ever a foregone conclusion since even John McCain and Lindsey Graham are indicating they’ll vote for him after taking their recess victory laps on Fox News.

But the people who are really going to get swollen up with ludicrous pride are the people who helped manufacture this mess:

The scrappy, outnumbered troika of the Washington Free Beacon, Breitbart.com, and Jennifer Rubin have enabled a historic filibuster of a media darling. Rubin, who was given first crack at Ted Cruz’s letter asking for a longer Hagel debate, was proven right — Republicans Luntzified their language and claimed that they could delay Hagel without actually filibustering him.

One final possible winner mentioned by Weigel in an earlier post could be more consequential:

Sen. Jeff Merkley, last seen running through the Senate like it was the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, has taken this opportunity to point out that watered-down rules reform—not one month old!—failed to prevent the first-ever filibuster of a Defense nominee.

Whether that accurate insight will ultimately matter is for better or worse in the hands of Harry Reid.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Jack Lindahl on February 15, 2013 11:34 AM:

    Why can't Obama find a Democrat to appoint?

  • Josef K on February 15, 2013 12:05 PM:

    I fear the outrage meter has been completely buried now. Mine certainly has, and frankly I can't see how the federal government (never mind the State and local levels) can do more than lurch from one day to the next.

    So long as someone doesn't start launching nuclear weapons, I'm almost willing to settle for that. But only almost.

  • Keith Roberts on February 15, 2013 12:37 PM:

    As far as I'm concerned, we can all thank Harry Reid for refusing to change the filibuster rules. I understand that some day the Dems will be in the minority and wish to use such a veto, but Reid's selfish and unpatriotic stance only hastens it along.

  • jjm on February 15, 2013 1:17 PM:

    It was clever of Obama to nominate a Republican just so the world could witness what happens when a party of egomaniacs goes bad: it becomes a pack of cannibals, eating their own.

    So telling was this remark today by John McCain, who openly said,

    "It goes back to thereís a lot of ill will towards Senator Hagel because when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly and said he was the worst President since Herbert Hoover and said the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War, which was nonsense. He was anti-his own party and people ó people donít forget that."


  • Anonymous on February 15, 2013 2:04 PM:

    jjm: thanks for posting that. I find it hilarious that McCain is incensed that Chuck Hagel called GW Bush names, the very same GW Bush that all Republicans have distanced themselves from, in fact run from screaming "we never liked him", since he left office.

  • Doug on February 15, 2013 6:28 PM:

    Keith Roberts, it would really be nice to put to rest the canard that it's all Reid's fault. There simply weren't enough votes to change the filibuster rules!
    At least that's what Sen. Bernie Sanders reported when interviewed the day after the vote on, I believe, NPR. According to Sanders there were "47-48 votes" to change the filibuster, even had Reid voted for the change, it wouldn't have enough.
    There's an article on DKos by David Waldman about the changes that WERE adopted that mentioned something I had missed: Sen. Reid has already used the "nuclear option" once, in October of 2011, when McConnell broke his word on an agreement he'd made with Reid. Out of 52 caucus members, Reid mustered 51 to change the rules!
    What I do find interesting is the rumors that were circulating before the vote to the effect that there WERE enough votes. Personally, I rather think Sen. Reid HAS enough votes to change the filibuster, but only IF certain conditions are met.
    Conditions such as McConnell not reigning in HIS caucus over nominations...

  • mb on February 16, 2013 2:41 AM:

    "Whether that accurate insight will ultimately matter is ... in the hands of Harry Reid."

    I think that probably ought to be "might be" in the hands of Harry Reid. Dem. Senate control in the next Congress is not, in any sense, assured.