Hagel Kabuki Consummated

On Tuesday I offered the less-than-revolutionary analysis that the Hagel nomination had descended into a Kabuki Theater of pointless posturing that would only delay his confirmation and allow certain Republican Senators and gabbers to score some intra-party points. Now we are at the terminal point of this process, as Dave Weigel observes at the end of “a long and stupid week:”

The Senate voted, by a 58-40 margin, to continue debate on Chuck Hagel’s nomination to run the Pentagon. (“Continuing debate” is nearly a figure of speech — the Senate’s heading home, and the arguments will continue off the floor, on TV and radio shows.) Shortly before the roll closed, there were 59 votes to end debate, one short of the 60 needed to continue. The margin only fell because Sen. Harry Reid switched, reserving the right to bring up the vote agains on February 26. Sen. Orrin Hatch decided to add a graf to every story by voting “present”; he’d told me yesterday that he “wasn’t there yet” on the nomination or the cloture question.

There is one sucker tonight: Chuck Hagel. He botched up his confirmation hearing, giving Republicans all kinds of reasons to oppose him. (In his “no” statement, Sen. Mark Kirk, who was never undecided on Hagel, continues to pretend that Hagel’s “elected” government of Iran gaffe was a window into his real thinking, as opposed to lazy verbiage.) He has to wait 12 days for the Senate to take up his nomination again. In that time, he has to endure more reports and rumors about his past speeches (nothing since “Jewish lobby” has damaged his chances so far), and he probably has to shut up, which seems difficult for him.

But for the first ever filibuster of a national security nominee — the first ever of one of the original cabinet positions inaugurated in 1789 — this thing really split the baby. Everybody seems to win something.

Wiegel goes on to note that the delay might be described as a “win” for Senate Republicans, who have humiliated Hagel; for Senate Democrats, who got to make Senate Republicans look irresponsible–and ultimately for the White House, which can look resolute in sticking with a nominee whose confirmation is more than ever a foregone conclusion since even John McCain and Lindsey Graham are indicating they’ll vote for him after taking their recess victory laps on Fox News.

But the people who are really going to get swollen up with ludicrous pride are the people who helped manufacture this mess:

The scrappy, outnumbered troika of the Washington Free Beacon, Breitbart.com, and Jennifer Rubin have enabled a historic filibuster of a media darling. Rubin, who was given first crack at Ted Cruz’s letter asking for a longer Hagel debate, was proven right — Republicans Luntzified their language and claimed that they could delay Hagel without actually filibustering him.

One final possible winner mentioned by Weigel in an earlier post could be more consequential:

Sen. Jeff Merkley, last seen running through the Senate like it was the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, has taken this opportunity to point out that watered-down rules reform—not one month old!—failed to prevent the first-ever filibuster of a Defense nominee.

Whether that accurate insight will ultimately matter is for better or worse in the hands of Harry Reid.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.