When Senate Republicans blocked Chuck Hagel’s confirmation to be secretary of Defense this afternoon by voting against a cloture motion to end debate and move to a final vote, they insisted it was not a filibuster. “This is not a filibuster. I realize that's the headline the majority leader would like the papers to write,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn said on the Senate floor while filibustering Hagel.
The cloture motion fell two votes short, securing only 58 of the 60 votes Democrats needed to break the GOP obstruction. Republicans had 40 votes against cloture, and in the crazy rules of the Senate, that wins.
The hold or filibuster, or whatever Cornyn would call it, came as conservatives buzzed about a speech Hagel gave to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination League (ADC) in 2007. A conservative blog today claimed that Hagel suggested in the speech that Israel controlled the State Department. The former Republican senator has come under fire from Republicans for being critical of Israeli policy in the past and referring to the “Israel lobby,” so the State Department quote would be problematic, if true.
It turns out Hagel may have said no such thing, though he did talk of cooperation with Iran on Afghanistan, including the idea of reopening a consulate in the country, which may pose its own political problems.
But the increasingly unhinged campaign against Hagel has been so single-minded in its quest to dig up dirt on him that it has seized on anything that has even a whiff of pro-Palestianian, anti-Israel slant, no matter how dubious. For instance, the bogus claim that Hagel received donations from a nonexistent group called “Friends of Hamas” plays perfectly into the notion that he coddled the sometimes terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip. But it has the disadvantage of being untrue.
Applying the Republicans' standard on Hagel to others -- including themselves -- complicates the situation.
Take Sen. Jim Inhofe, for instance. He’s the ranking Republican member on the Senate Armed Services Committee and has been one of the leading figures opposing Hagel’s nomination. Inhofe told Foreign Policy's Josh Rogan that Hagel's relatively soft stance on Hamas, among other things, meant that Inhofe could not support him.
But in 2006, after Hamas won the Palestinian elections, Inhofe did not seem concerned. Hamas has done "some good things, even as a terrorist group,” he told the Oklahoman. He compared the group to one of the country's largest charities, saying Hamas is like "the Salvation Army with loaded guns.”
"I would prefer that they not have won, but I don't think it's the end of the world,” he added.
The quote may not be damning on its own, but if there were a concerted smear campaign against Inhofe’s stance on Israel, it would be about as bad as anything brought against Hagel. In other words, using his current standard, Jim Inhofe might have a hard time voting to confirm Jim Inhofe.