The Senate’s vote on Thursday for former Senator Chuck Hagel (R–NE) for Secretary of Defense failed by two votes to achieve a 60-vote majority in favor of cloture.
White House spokesman Jay Carney blew a gasket, calling the Senate action on the Hagel nomination “unconscionable.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV) did the same, accusing Republicans—falsely—of leaving the United States without someone at the helm at the Pentagon. (Current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is staying on for now.) Never mind that then-Senators Barack Obama (D–IL) and John Kerry (D–MA) had no qualms voting against the nominees of the George W. Bush Administration, including John Bolton for ambassador to the United Nations.
The Constitution wisely provides for checks and balances on the power of each of the three branches of government. The Founders intended the Senate to have a real role in the vetting of Cabinet members and other presidential appointees. Contrary to the view expressed by Senator John McCain (R–AZ), the President should not automatically have the right to choose whomever he wants, qualified or not.
As noted eloquently by none other than Senator Carl Levin (D–MI) regarding the nomination of Bolton (whom the Democrats blocked), “Every member should add his or her voice to the demand for the production of relevant documents which Senators need to decide on confirmation or for any other legitimate reason. This body will be a lesser place if we do not stand with each other when it comes to gaining access to documents.”
The Secretary of Defense will oversee the lives of thousands of Americans serving this nation here and abroad, as well as the security of all Americans and many people around the world. The Senate’s constitutional role in affirming the best nominee for that position is not one to take lightly or toss away.