Chuck Hagel breaks the filibuster: Was the GOP's opposition worth it?

Ryu Spaeth
The Week

Today's Senate vote cleared the last serious obstacle to Hagel leading the Pentagon

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 71-27 to break a filibuster of Chuck Hagel's nomination to become secretary of defense, paving the way for a simple-majority vote that is sure to see the decorated Vietnam War veteran confirmed. The vote ends a Job-like ordeal for Hagel, a Republican whose nomination process was characterized by a singularly brutal confirmation hearing, weeks of bitter attacks from members of his party, and outlandish smears in some corners of the right-wing media.

Republicans had several problems with Hagel, a former senator from Nebraska: His opposition to the Iraq War, including a 2007 surge that brought a measure of stability to the country; his alleged antipathy toward Israel; his allegedly dovish positions on Iran; and his suspected links to Islamic extremist groups, including a fictional organization called "Friends of Hamas." Furthermore, Republicans in the Senate sought to use Hagel's confirmation as leverage to extract more information from the Obama administration about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.

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Republicans didn't try to hide the fact that they were thrashing Hagel for personal reasons. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was once close to Hagel, at one point said Republicans bore a "lot of ill will" toward Hagel because of his criticisms of the GOP over the Iraq War.

In the end, however, Hagel will be confirmed quite comfortably, at least on paper, which Democrats will surely take as evidence that the GOP's opposition to Hagel was little more than a thinly disguised attempt to score points against the Obama administration. "What has their filibuster gained?" asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "Twelve days later, nothing has changed. Senate Republicans have delayed for the better part of two weeks for one reason and one reason only: Partisanship."

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Jamelle Bouie, writing at The American Prospect, captured the irony of Hagel's inevitable confirmation with the headline: "Victory for the Friends of Hamas!" And Dan Amira at New York has some fun by giving shoutouts to all the conservative commentators who gleefully predicted that Hagel's nomination would be withdrawn.

So after weeks of pressure, as well as millions of dollars spent in advertising, did the Republicans accomplish anything? At this point, Hagel may be too beaten up to be an effective defense secretary, reports Jeremy W. Peters at The New York Times:

But even before Mr. Hagel takes office, questions are growing about whether the fight will wound his ability to lead the Pentagon at a time of upheaval both at home and overseas. With a series of huge budget cuts known as the sequester set to go into effect at the end of the week — cuts that will fall hard on the Defense Department if Congress cannot negotiate a compromise — Mr. Hagel will inherit myriad challenges. [The New York Times]

Indeed, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas all but admitted that was the whole point of stalling Hagel's confirmation. "He will take office with the weakest support of any defense secretary in modern history, which will make him less effective in his job," the Republican said.

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And one unidentified senior Republican aide told Politico: "Bottom line: A weakened White House gets a marginalized secretary of defense who had to disavow all of his views and supporters in order to win confirmation. I'd call that a win for the opposition."

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