Most United State senators generally agree that any president has the right to appoint to his cabinet people he wants. And that includes even candidates with whom a senator might have political and personal differences. He is after all, a member of that exclusive club, the U.S. Senate. It is also generally true that a president feels comfortable that recommending a senator to a cabinet post was a smart way to have his candidate easily approved by his colleagues.
That wasn’t the case for former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel, who was confirmed to become Secretary of Defense by 58 to 41 vote, with most of his Republican colleagues voting against him. There obviously is nothing wrong with a senator opposing a cabinet candidate nominee. It is the responsibility of the senate to make a judgment and confirm or deny a Presidential proposed cabinet appointment.
In Hagel’s case, however, the confirmation hearings took on an unnecessarily ugly tone with the threat of a filibuster that delayed a vote for 12 days. The powerful conservative media began attacking Hagel as soon as it learned that President Obama was about to nominate him. The rancor against him surprised many people since Hagel is a conservative, although not in coloration of the tea party and the much more conservative elements that have begun to dominate the Republican Party.
Hagel will be the first former enlisted man to serve as Defense Secretary. He is a Vietnam War veteran who earned two Purple Hearts and still has shrapnel shards in his chest. One would have expected conservatives to rally around such a man with an exemplary military and legislative record. Some outrageous claims were made such as that he accepted money from terrorists, was unfriendly and had said negative things about Israel, and for referring to a gay diplomat nominee as being “aggressively gay.” Hagel apologized for that comment.
Some of his opponents in the senate are bragging that the aggressive fight they mounted against Hagel will make him a weak Secretary of Defense. A weakened Hagel is not acceptable since he is taking over the Pentagon at a complicated time with projected budget tightening forcing major cutbacks in military armaments and personnel.
Sen. Carl Levin, however, thinks that the belligerency on both sides will fade and that Hagel will not carry whatever hurt or angry feelings into his new position. The Michigan Democrat said, “I think that everybody here who has worked with senator Hagel realizes that he’s not the kind of person who carries grudges.”
If Levin is correct about that, that is a good thing because if anyone ever deserved to resent and hold a grudge about the way his senate colleagues treated him, it is Chuck Hagel.
By Chuck Conconi