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Published: Saturday, 2/16/2013

Blocked by politics

Hagel Hagel
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

For the past four years, Senate Republicans have used the power of the filibuster to block legislation, bottle up nominees to courts and government departments, and strangle federal agencies, even though they are in the minority. This week, they hit a new low.

They successfully filibustered Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for Defense secretary. It was the first time a nominee for this post has been prevented from getting an up-or-down vote.

Republicans claimed they needed more information about Mr. Hagel, though he answered every question at his confirmation hearing and provided more paperwork than usual. A former Republican senator, Mr. Hagel is better known to his old colleagues than most other nominees. A delay of a week or two, which some members said they sought, will not change anyone’s opinion.

Some senators tried to use the nomination to re-ignite last year’s fight over the deaths of U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya. They demanded to know when Mr. Obama spoke to the president of Libya after the attack.

This political score-settling has nothing to do with Mr. Hagel, and the White House had no obligation to respond. But it did anyway, saying Mr. Obama spoke to the Libyan president the day after the attack.

Did that satisfy Republicans? Of course not. They moved on to a new excuse to block Mr. Hagel, because the procedure is about denying Mr. Obama his nominee for as long as possible.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid explained the process: “I guess to be able to run for the Senate as a Republican in most places of the country, you need to have a resumé that says I helped filibuster one of the President’s nominees,” he said.

The most dishonest aspect of this debacle was that Republicans denied they were filibustering, claiming that they just wanted to prolong debate for a while and that all major votes require 60 supporters. Mr. Hagel lost by a single vote.

The Constitution says the Senate must give or withhold its consent to presidential nominees. It does not empower minority blocs to determine the outcome.

The Senate could have restored the power of a majority if Mr. Reid had agreed to a proposal to reduce this abuse, but he did not. Though Republicans are determined to turn Cabinet nominations into ordeals, Democrats gave them the power to do so.

— New York Times



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