Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel didn't help himself win confirmation, but he deserves an up-or-down vote.
It's pretty much undisputed that former Nebraska U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel laid a big egg last week when he appeared before a Senate confirmation hearing panel.
Hagel's testimony was a combination of apologies for past statements, misstatements of current White House foreign policy followed by clarifications and concessions that he needs to learn a lot more to carry out the job of defense secretary in an admirable fashion.
Even White House aides — unnamed, of course — conceded that Hagel's testimony was a public relations disaster for which they had no explanation.
The question now is how the Senate will proceed. President Barack Obama continues to stand behind his man, although the White House leaks raise doubts about whether he will continue to do so. Because Obama wants Hagel, majority Democrats still back Hagel.
But what of Republicans? It seems pretty certain most Republicans will vote against confirming Hagel, a nominal Republican. But U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, leader of the Senate Republicans, has raised the specter of a filibuster — endless debate — designed to block a confirmation vote, and Democrats don't have a sufficient majority (60 votes) to cut off debate.
A filibuster would be a mistake for a variety of reasons.
For starters, all presidents are generally entitled to their first choice on Cabinet appointments. If a president is to be denied his first choice, the Senate should do so in an up-or-down confirmation vote, a la the rejection of John Tower as defense secretary in the first Bush administration.
Finally, as a matter of appearances, if Republicans were to successfully defeat the Hagel nomination through a filibuster, they would be criticized — accurately — as trying to obstruct Obama for the sake of doing so.
Hagel is slotted to replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who has been an outstanding public servant for decades. That he is not Panetta's equal is not sufficient reason to deny Hagel a confirmation vote.
It may be unclear to many people, even loyal Democrats, why Obama wants Hagel, but he does. The Senate should vote yea or nay on the confirmation question, not resort to parliamentary tactics to defeat Hagel.