Former Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Obama's choice to lead the Defense Department, has generated some controversy, but is nevertheless well positioned to earn Senate confirmation. There's been some chatter about an unprecedented Republican filibuster -- no modern cabinet nominee has ever faced such obstructionism -- but there are more than enough votes to overcome the opposition.
So, it's over? With Hagel set to clear the Senate Armed Services Committee today, it's only a matter of time before the Nebraska Republican is sworn in, right? As Ali Gharib reported late last night, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has put a new roadblock between Hagel and confirmation -- and it's a doozy.
The problem is that the "committee's review of the nomination" will never be completed to the liking of Hagel's Republican opponents, because they've set an impossible bar for the nominee to clear. A Democratic official working on Hagel's confirmation told me: "What they're asking is unprecedented, and it's clear that it's information that he's unable to provide." The official noted that the U.S. had myriad national security concerns on its plate, not least of which was the 66,000 American troops deployed in Afghanistan right now.
Norman Ornstein, an expert on Congressional procedures with the American Enterprise Institute, called the requests "unprecedented." "I think it's a pretty ridiculous and outrageous thing to ask," he said. "You could say that there's been requests for detailed information [in the past], but this goes even beyond the intrusive questionnaires candidates fill out during the vetting process."
Though it appeared the review process, and the scrutiny of Hagel's background, was complete, Cruz launched a new salvo, asking for financial information about private companies he was affiliated with but does not control. Hagel's already provided as much information as he has access to, including everything from his own personal holdings and investment portfolio, but he found some of Cruz' inquiries literally impossible to answer.
For the right-wing Texan and 24 of his Senate GOP allies, this means Hagel is being uncooperative and secretive.
Indeed, the accusations are arguably worse than that -- since Hagel served on some corporate boards, and some of those companies do international business, Republicans have begun arguing that unless the Senate has access to those companies' private business disclosures, then there may be reason to believe Hagel was "unduly influenced by foreign governments."
Making matters slightly worse, Cruz has demanded written transcripts of speeches Hagel delivered for which there was no prepared text and no recordings.
It's unlikely these ridiculous requests for unavailable information will derail Hagel's nomination, but for reasons that are unclear, Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has agreed to delay the confirmation process while far-right senators demand more -- and by any fair measure, unreasonable -- disclosure.