From the day President Obama nominated him, the New York Times has oozed sympathy for the plight of Chuck Hagel, Obama's nominee for secretary of Defense. Times reporters have warned darkly of the disappearance of congressional "comity" and "courtesy" (as if the clubbiness and glad-handing endemic to the U.S. Senate represents some shining exemplar of good government) among Republicans who dare to suggest Hagel came off grossly uninformed and confused on foreign policy issues in his congressional hearings.
Wagons were being circled in Thursday's "Senate Democrats, Accusing G.O.P. of Obstruction, Try to Force Hagel Vote," with reporters Jeremy Peters and Mark Mazzetti portraying the battle from the Democratic Party's point of view, with concerns about Benghazi reduced to "a point of conservative ire."
Accusing Republicans of a new level of obstruction, Senate Democrats moved on Wednesday to force a vote on President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense.
Mr. Hagel’s nomination was endorsed by the Senate Armed Services Committee along party lines on Tuesday. But with Republicans demanding more information before allowing a vote on Mr. Hagel by the full Senate, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, took procedural steps to limit floor debate on his nomination and bring the partisan clash to a head by Saturday.
“This is the first time in the history of our country that a presidential nominee for secretary of defense has been filibustered,” Mr. Reid said on the Senate floor. “What a shame. But that’s the way it is.”
According to the Senate’s historian, Donald A. Ritchie, only 5 percent of presidential cabinet nominees have been blocked or rejected by the Senate. Only twice since 1917, when the Senate’s modern filibuster rules were created, has a cabinet-level nominee been subject to a supermajority vote of 60, as Republicans are forcing with Mr. Hagel.
The Times didn't point out that those two previous occasions both involved Republican nominees facing a Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate, as the paper itself hinted at in a previous story: Ronald Reagan’s nominee for commerce secretary in 1987, C. William Verity Jr., and George W. Bush’s nominee for interior secretary in 2006, Dirk Kempthorne.
In the case of Mr. Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, the opposition is especially striking because senators have traditionally afforded their former colleagues a high level of courtesy. But many Republicans still nurse a grievance against Mr. Hagel for his opposition to the war in Iraq, and others have sought to make an issue of statements he has made on Israel and Iran. Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona want the Obama administration to provide information about the timeline of its actions on the day of the attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, an episode that has become a point of conservative ire against the president.
"Conservative ire" has appeared at least 20 times in Times news stories (Nexis contians full-text archives of the paper back to June 1, 1980). The first appearance registered by Nexis came in 1982, dealing with conservative displeasure with the Reagan administration: "ANALYSIS; AGAIN, PRESIDENT IS DRAWING CONSERVATIVES' IRE." By contrast, "liberal ire" has been used only one time in the paper, back in 1981.
And is the filibuster really that unprecedented as the Times would suggest, in its long-running defense of Hagel? Will Bennett wrote in The Hill: "Cloture was attempted successfully to end filibusters of the nominations of: Dirk Kempthorne for secretary of the Interior in 2006; Robert J. Portman for U.S. Trade Representative in 2005; Stephen L. Johnson for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2005; Michael O. Leavitt for EPA Administrator in 2003; and C. William Verity for secretary of Commerce in 1987. Every one of these nominees were chosen by Republican administrations and primary support for each filibuster came from Democrats in the Senate including, in some cases, current President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State Kerry and former Secretary of State Clinton."
Indeed, as a U.S. senator in 2006, Barack Obama himself voted to filibuster President Bush's Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.