Washington is full of surprises and it would truly be a surprise, rising to the level of a shock, if former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel was not confirmed as secretary of defense, likely next week.
Senate Republicans’ opposition began to crumble at week’s end. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said he would drop his support for the GOP filibuster and vote for Hagel with a backhanded endorsement. “He’s probably as good as we’re going to get,” he told a home-state newspaper.
Two other Republican senators – Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska – are already on record as in favor of letting the nomination go forward. Two more – Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – have indicated that they will do likewise.
That would provide the necessary 60 votes to end the filibuster. With 55 Democrats in the Senate, Hagel would easily get the simple majority of 51 needed for confirmation to the Pentagon post.
The decorated and wounded Vietnam veteran also got a boost from Republican elder statesman Bob Dole, a decorated and wounded World War II veteran, who called Hagel uniquely qualified.
In a last-ditch attempt to derail the nomination, 15 GOP senators wrote to President Barack Obama urging him to withdraw it. While getting 15 senators to agree on anything is impressive, that is still only one-third of the Republican caucus, suggesting this is not an issue the party is willing to go to the barricades for.
One of Hagel’s harshest Republican opponents, Sen. John McCain, Ariz., said he would not stand in the way of the nomination.
When the smoke clears and Hagel is confirmed, the voters can be forgiven for asking, “What was that all about?”
True, Hagel’s appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee was alarmingly underwhelming, but the substantive objections to his nomination were largely beside the point. He was not in government when the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi was attacked, which is in any case a problem for the State Department, not the Pentagon.
His views on Israel and Iran, which appear to still be evolving, are out of the Republican mainstream, but our policy toward those two countries also falls within the purview of State.