When In Doubt, Send a Letter Asking the White House to Dump Hagel

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 21 2013 11:18 AM

When In Doubt, Send a Letter Asking the White House to Dump Hagel

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) speaks during a news briefing after the weekly Senate Republican Policy Luncheon December 11, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Texas Sen. John Cornyn has been calling for Chuck Hagel's nomination to be blocked or withdrawn since the word "go," and in six days of delay, Republicans haven't succeeded in converting any pro-Hagelians. The solution: A letter to the White House, emailed this morning, then released to the press.

While we respect Senator Hagel's honorable military service, in the interest of national security, we respectfully request that you withdraw his nomination. It would be unprecedented for a Secretary of Defense to take office without the broad base of bipartisan support and confidence needed to serve effectively in this critical position. Over the last half-century, no Secretary of Defense has been confirmed and taken office with more than three Senators voting against him. Further, in the history of this position, none has ever been confirmed with more than 11 opposing votes. The occupant of this critical office should be someone whose candidacy is neither controversial nor divisive.

That's a bit of a Catch-22, isn't it? We oppose the nomination. Thus, there is substantial opposition to the nomination. Thus, because there has never been such subtantial opposition before, confirmation would be unprecedented. You have to admire the goalpost-shifting attempt, as it was only six days ago that Republicans mounted the first-ever filibuster of a national security nominee, then claimed it wasn't a filibuster. The threshold for confirmation isn't 51 votes. It isn't 60. It's 89!

The other notable aspect of the letter? No reference to transparency, the fulcrum that The Weekly Standard et al are using to try and delay the nomination further. Cornyn et al stick with the "What about his gaffes?" approach, saying Hagel displayed "a seeming ambivalence about whether containment or prevention is the best approach" to Iran. Only one of senators demanding more Benghazi info before a Hagel vote—Lindsey Graham—signs the letter. McCain and Ayotte don't.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 



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