The Senate Republican vendetta against Chuck Hagel – acted out in the filibuster that has derailed his nomination as Secretary of Defense – seems extraordinarily petty — if John McCain (R-AZ) is telling the truth. The Arizona senator publicly acknowledged that his party’s rejection of Hagel, a fellow Republican and decorated Vietnam veteran, was motivated by old grudges dating from the Bush administration.
“There’s 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,” McCain told Fox News after the vote on Thursday. “He was anti-his own party, and people…don’t forget that. You can disagree but if you’re disagreeable, people don’t forget that.”
So bent on vengeance were the Republicans that they even tolerated the McCarthyite diversions of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), a freshman whose resemblance to the late Wisconsin demagogue emerged in his repeated insinuations that Hagel had secretly accepted money from North Korea and Saudi Arabia. This seemed to disturb McCain, but he admonished Cruz in the mildest terms possible, and without naming him.
When the Cruz smears fell flat, it became plain that the assault on Hagel’s nomination wasn’t based on any concern that rose to the level of Constitutional principle, national defense, or substantive foreign policy. Among the Republican senators who promoted the filibuster against Hagel were several, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John Cornyn (R-TX) who had insisted when George W. Bush was president that every single one of his nominees deserved an “up or down vote” – and thus should not be subject, as a matter of presidential authority in Article II of the Constitution, to tactical delay.
But then all the rules are different, now that Barack Obama is (and remains) president.
Worse than their inconsistency over the filibuster — which at least is a bipartisan hypocrisy shared by Democrats — the Republicans have claimed that Hagel’s policy views are so far from the mainstream that he cannot be confirmed.
But the same senators almost unanimously confirmed the nomination of former senator John Kerry (D-MA) as Secretary of State, virtually without questioning any of his positions. Kerry, a superb and highly qualified choice, won that easy approval despite holding positions practically identical to those of Hagel concerning Mideast policy, Israel, Iran, North Korea, nuclear disarmament, and many other critical and controversial issues.