The filibuster of Chuck Hagel's confirmation for secretary of defense by Senate Republicans is not about his qualifications. Hagel is a decorated Vietnam veteran and a former moderate Republican senator from Nebraska who has the experience and ability to lead the Pentagon. Hagel's nomination is being held up to settle old political scores. That might sound like a typical day in Congress, but it is has never before happened that a presidential pick for defense secretary has been filibustered. Without any good reason except a vague "what's the rush?" Senate Republicans are standing in the way of the president assembling his national security team.
Hagel is taking a beating from his former Republican colleagues because of his willingness in the past to be an independent voice on issues such as when to leave Iraq and how to handle Iran's nuclear ambitions. Sen. John McCain, one of Hagel's chief antagonists, told Fox News that there is a lot of lingering "ill will" toward Hagel because of the way he turned against President George W. Bush and his party over the Iraq War. Hagel urged a withdrawal from the conflict and opposed the surge in troop levels. Hagel has been sensibly cautious about committing American troops to battle and keeping them in harm's way if it serves administration and military egos over America's strategic interests. That quality is commendable.
Republicans succeeded in putting off Hagel's confirmation for 10 days after a vote to end debate on his nomination failed 58-40. Only four courageous Republican senators — Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Mike Johanns of Nebraska and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — sided with Democrats to end debate, not enough to make up the 60 votes needed to break the Republican filibuster.
The delay on Hagel's posting is irresponsible and widens the partisan divide. A steady presence at the helm of the Pentagon is needed now. The Defense Department is facing deep automatic spending cuts if the sequester is not averted. And this is on top of the winding down of the war in Afghanistan and the ongoing issues in Iran, Syria and other hot spots.
Hagel is a well known to the Senate, having served there from 1997 to 2009. During his confirmation hearing he allayed concerns by expressing his firm commitment to Israel's safety and security, agreeing with administration policy that Iran cannot be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons, and supporting equal treatment of gays in the military.
The Republican filibuster is one more partisan line crossed that makes the Senate even less functional and raises questions about the minority party's willingness to be a partner in governing the nation.