John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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The Hagel Thing

Posted on February 15, 2013
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So, what exactly is going on with this Hagel thing?

Why didn’t Republicans let a vote happen?  Why are they filibustering for the first time in history a Defense Secretary?  Why do they think this is good politics and why does the President think it is good politics to push back as hard as he is?

All good questions.

The Democrats like to say that this is all politics and to some extent it is a pure political play.  But real policy differences underlay the bitter partisanship found in the fight.

I have close friends who used to work for Chuck Hagel and are still loyal to the man, if not necessarily what he has said on more than a few occasions.   And I have some sympathy for his life story, his service to the country, and his opposition to the Iraq War.

Iraq was a mistake.  We went in there under false pretenses. Once we there, we had exactly the wrong plan to fix the country.  While the surge worked in the short term, there is no evidence that Iraq is suddenly going to become a great American ally in the long term.   And the war made our debt problems a lot worse.

So, I have some sympathy for Hagel’s position these issues.

But I have some sympathy for the views of his critics too.

A public figure can’t say what Hagel has said about Israel and expect to get away with it.   He has caused himself lasting damage on that front.

Hagel, when he was in the Senate, became more and more caustic towards his Republican colleagues.   And he became self-righteous as became more caustic, which is never pleasant.

Nobody really likes somebody who so completely turns his back on his political party.  That left a mark with his colleagues.

But none of that matters as much as one simple fact:  Chuck Hagel, once he gets into the Pentagon, will be used as a tool by the Obama Administration to cut defense spending to the bone and batter Republicans in the process.

Now, maybe you are a budget hawk and you believe that defense spending needs to be really reduced, and that is a fine policy position to take.

But that is not the Republican position.  Republicans want to weed out waste and fraud, but they don’t want to completely slash defense spending.

And what Lindsey Graham and John McCain fear is that once Hagel is sworn in, the President will use him effectively as a way to divide and conquer the Republicans as they try to stop the President’s defense cuts.

That’s the theory, at least.

One last thing.  Chuck Hagel bombed in his interview.

He absolutely bombed.  He fumbled.  He bumbled.  He grumbled.  He didn’t know the positions of the Obama Administration and he didn’t know how to answer basic questions that you need to be able to answer if you want to be Defense Secretary.

Most Democrats will acknowledge, many of them on the record, that Hagel bombed.

Would you hire somebody if they completely failed the first interview?

I wouldn’t.

At the end of the day, the President should be able to put who he wants to put into key positions in his Administration.   But the Senate has a role in the process and it has the duty to exercise that role.

And don’t forget, when John Tower was nominated to be Defense Secretary, Congressional Democrats had no problem voting him down.

Hagel isn’t a sure thing for Defense Secretary.   He will get his up or down vote, but it might take a while.