As of this afternoon, Republicans have vowed to filibuster Chuck Hagel’s nomination to head the Department of Defense. It’s not hyperbole to say this is unprecedented—the Senate has never filibustered a president’s Cabinet nominee. It would be one thing if the nominee were clearly unqualified—if Obama had nominated Diddy to lead Defense, then Republicans would have a point. But Hagel is a decorated Vietnam veteran who served two terms in the Senate and built a reputation for seriousness on defense issues.
This isn’t to say Republicans can’t oppose Hagel—they can vote against him, and if they have a majority, they can defeat his nomination. But refusing to allow the full Senate to vote on this is a huge departure from congressional norms. And why are Republicans breaking from years of Senate tradition? Because the administration hasn’t released specific intelligence about the September attacks on the U.S’s diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya. Here’s South Carolina senator Lindsay Graham with what he wants from the White House:
“There seems to not be much interest to hold this president accountable for a national security breakdown that led to the first ambassador being killed in the line of duty in over 30 years,” Graham said. “No, the debate on Chuck Hagel is not over. It has not been serious. We don’t have the information we need.”
The GOP’s white whale, it seems, is the belief that President Obama—along with Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Susan Rice—covered up information that the attack on Benghazi was an al Qaeda plot, in order to avoid political repercussions. That there isn’t any evidence for this—at all—hasn’t deterred Republicans from pursuing it with dedication.
At the moment, Harry Reid doesn’t have the 60 votes necessary to bring cloture and break the GOP filibuster. In addition to the 55 Democrats and independents in his caucus, only three Republicans—Senators Mike Johanns, Thad Cochran, and Susan Collins—have voiced support for a motion to end debate and bring Hagel’s nomination to the floor. Neither of these senators are moderates—even Collins, by and large, votes with her party—but unlike their colleagues, they have decided to let government function.
I’ll put it this way: We’re working with the lowest possible bar when a basic willingness to govern is the new standard for praise.