Article II, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution grants to the president the power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties and to nominate and appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consulates, judges of the Supreme Court and all other officers of the United States whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for.
In many cases, such as the appointments of officers of the armed forces, the appointments are pro forma and accomplished by voice vote. For reasons easily understood, the appointments of cabinet members, Supreme Court justices and other officers of the government are the subject of committee hearings and, finally, votes on the Senate floor.
For the majority of these appointments, it has long been a precedent that the president is entitled to officers of his own choosing and, in the absence of evidence of misconduct, serious lapses in judgment and/or demonstrated lack of credible ability for the job, the nominee is confirmed by the Senate. While it is not often by unanimous vote, the confirmation normally is by substantial margin.
There are, of course, presidential nominations clouded by controversy — some by partisan politics and others which are actually cause for alarm. And, inasmuch as politics is not often characterized by fairness, bipartisanship or even common courtesy, the party objecting to that particular nominee can be counted upon for a complete lapse of memory when it is its turn in the barrel.
The current controversial nomination is that of former GOP Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. More than a dozen Republican senators have indicated they will vote against Hagel, with the Armed Forces Committee's ranking Republican, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, hinting a requirement of a 60-vote confirmation rather than a simple majority.
Naturally, this turn of events has evoked hand-wringing and whining that a president's nominee deserves an up or down vote and that never before has a candidate been subjected to such degrading questioning. The Senate majority leader conveniently overlooks the fact that he and then-Senator Barack Obama supported filibusters against President George W. Bush's judicial appointments. Apparently also forgotten are the contentious defamations of nominees Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, John Tower to secretary of defense and John Ashcroft to attorney general.
The case against Hagel is twofold. First, he has made conflicting statements concerning our relationship with Israel, Iran and the conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of these, he has walked back, indicating that he has either changed his mind or misspoke his true opinions on the issues. This performance did not mark him as a candidate imbued with the courage of his convictions — a factor several have noted.
Secondly, his performance during the confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee was sufficiently inept that even the normally supportive New York Times and Washington Post panned it. Sen. Hagel was demonstrably ill-prepared, particularly when he flubbed the question as to the president's position on "containment of Iran's nuclear capability." He was reminded by a note handed him by an aide and by committee chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, that our policy is not "containment" but prevention.
Supporters of Hagel cite his experience as a Vietnam combat-wounded infantry sergeant as a logical stepping stone to Pentagon chief inasmuch as a former enlisted man "understands the consequences of war." Additionally, they counsel overlooking his poor performance before the committee, claiming he was not sufficiently briefed.
I find both rationalizations to be, quite frankly, absurd. For example, I know and hold in complete respect a number of former enlisted, combat-wounded Marines ranking from private to sergeant major, but that does not qualify any of them to be secretary of defense. As for not being sufficiently prepared for the hearing — as a professional, it is his responsibility to be prepared — anything less should be sufficient to disqualify him.
In all probability, former Sen. Hagel will be confirmed as secretary of defense — Senate Republicans have long been loath to filibuster a Cabinet appointment and have indicated that the "hold" on the nomination is but a temporary one while they seek information not yet provided. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, the primary opposition, have indicated that, along with most of their colleagues, a simple up or down vote will be permitted.
However, the kicker — the real embarrassment in this "Advise and Consent" process of confirming former Sen. Hagel as secretary of defense — is the abject and total silence by the Senate Democrats. There has been enough reasonable doubt created by his previously stated and then rescinded positions on defense policy and by his less than impressive committee appearance that one would have thought that several — or at least, a few — Senate Democrats would have had second thoughts on the nomination.
Admittedly, albeit sadly, I would not expect a Senate Democrat to question or to vote against Hagel's confirmation as secretary of defense. Nevertheless, if "Advise and Consent" is to have any meaning, one should anticipate that the senior party leadership would have urged the president to reconsider the appointment of one who does not appear to be up to the task of leading the world's largest employer and recipient of the highest level of budgetary resources in the federal government.
National security and management of the resources necessary thereto is not a venue for on-the-job training.