By Ronny O'LearyColumnist
On Feb. 26, the Senate confirmed former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel to replace Leon Panetta as secretary of defense. Just 12 days earlier, the Senate cast a historic vote with a filibuster of Hagel’s appointment, the first ever filibuster of a presidential nomination for the position.
The president now has an incredible amount of power. This was only the third time that the Senate had filibustered a cabinet-level nomination. Usually, the Senate acts as a mere rubber stamp for the president on these matters. President Obama has been trying to circumvent Congress by any means possible. He has invaded other countries without congressional approval and made appointments while Congress was not in session, so hopefully the filibuster served as reminder for the president that he is not a one-man government and that he is still subject to congressional control.
On the other hand, some of the reasons given for delaying the vote were ridiculous. For example, Arizona Senator John McCain said that the vote was a response to Hagel’s criticizing of Bush’s troop surge in Iraq. (Hagel said that it was the worst mistake since the Vietnam War.) McCain apparently thought that the filibuster was a consequence of the supposedly nonsensical comment, but Hagel’s comment was entirely justified. He should have gone further, criticizing the entire war, not just the surge.
McCain’s comments suggest that the Republicans were putting party over principle. Hagel did not stand with his party, and the Republicans were punishing him for it. The founders warned us of the dangers of political parties, and the recent filibuster demonstrated an example of blatant partisanship.
Other senators, including Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, believed that Hagel had received funding from enemy governments and terrorist groups. Firstly, the terrorist group that Paul mentioned, “Friends of Hamas,” does not seem to exist. Furthermore, there appears to be no proof that Hagel received money from enemy governments. The Senate should scrutinize presidential nominees very closely, but it should also substantiate its accusations with evidence.
The Senate was right in confirming Hagel as secretary of defense since there was little evidence that he was guilty of any wrongdoing. I support the filibuster of presidential nominees in extreme cases, but there was no reason for this particular filibuster. Nevertheless, the vote certainly called into question the relationship between Congress and the president.