Bring on Chairman Feingold

BRING ON CHAIRMAN FEINGOLD…. A few days ago, The Hill ran an item that I can’t quite wrap my head around.

Vice President-elect Joe Biden leaves an open chairmanship on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that could end up being filled by one of the most outspoken critics of the Iraq war.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), among the chamber’s most liberal members, is the fourth Democrat in line on the committee, behind Biden, Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.) and Sen. John Kerry (Mass.).

Dodd said Thursday he plans to stay on as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. Kerry is reportedly lobbying to be President-elect Barack Obama’s Secretary of State.

That leaves Feingold, an unapologetic champion of civil liberties and a staunch opponent of the Bush administration’s war in Iraq, next in line. Feingold opposed the war from the start and was the first senator to call for a U.S. troop withdrawal timetable.

Democrats could bypass the Wisconsin senator and choose a more centrist member, such as Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.), who initially supported the war and could be more open to compromise. But that would rile the party’s left wing.

Ordinarily, seniority dictates the next in line for the chairmanship, and if Kerry does leave for an Obama administration, it’s Feingold’s gavel. Except, maybe it won’t be, because he’s a “liberal” who, like Obama, was right about the war in Iraq when most were wrong.

In fact, The Hill quotes Dan Senor, the former Bush administration spokesman in Iraq, saying Feingold would be “a hard-left chairman,” while Nelson “is basically supportive of Obama but not with the ideological purity that Feingold has.” Why Democrats would take advice from Senor is unclear.

What’s more, Digby noted a “Democratic strategist” named Michael Feldman arguing on television the other day that Feingold’s opposition to the war in Iraq “would immediately then raise some issues for the caucus and for leader Reid.”

This is, of course, utterly bizarre. As Yglesias noted, “[T]he idea that anyone could, with a straight face, argue that Feingold should be disqualified on account of having been correct about Iraq is a sad comment on the state of things.”