Republican senators who opposed the Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be defense secretary were right about one thing: Hagel wasn’t qualified.
Hagel resigned on Monday, reportedly under administration pressure to do so.
Two years ago, when President Obama nominated the Vietnam veteran and former Republican senator from Nebraska to join his cabinet, he might have thought it would boost his bipartisan bona fides after the bitter 2012 presidential election. He might have even thought that senators would rally around one of their own nominated to a position that historically saw confirmations occur with little controversy.
It didn’t work out that way. The GOP immediately went into attack mode. Hagel had always shown insufficient fidelity to the hard-core conservative line. He had even donated to a few Democratic candidates. Republicans also questioned whether he supported Israel and would cut support defense spending cuts.
The most deplorable attacks came from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who suggested that North Korea was funneling cash to Hagel, and that he had ties to Iran.
A short-lived filibuster threat delayed the confirmation vote, and when it did happen, it was an almost party-line vote.
But credit where credit is due. A few Republican senators assessed Hagel correctly.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., warned, “I do not believe that Chuck Hagel, who is a friend of mine, is qualified to be secretary of defense.”
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was even blunter. “There’s simply no way to sugar coat it,” he said. “Sen. Hagel’s performance before the Senate Armed Services Committee was remarkably inept, and we should not be installing a defense secretary who is obviously not qualified for the job and who holds dangerously misguided views on some of the most important issues facing national security policy for our country. Sen. Hagel is clearly the wrong man for the job.”
There was some self-fulfilling prophesy in this. By making the confirmation process so controversial and partisan, Hagel took the job damaged. It was never clear that he had the support he needed to lead America’s armed forces effectively.
Nevertheless, it turns out that McCain and Cornyn made a valid point. As news broke that Hagel was being forced to resign, an anonymous White House official admitted, “He wasn’t up to the job.”
This raises legitimate concerns about Obama’s decision process. Did he choose someone unqualified simply because he was so desperate to appear bipartisan?
There is a lesson in all of this, too, but it is not that Republicans were right two years ago. Rather, it is that when a party is throws every accusation it can think of against the wall, sometimes one of them sticks.
The GOP used Hagel to punish Obama for trouncing Mitt Romney. Their goal was and is to deny him even the smallest victory.