Chuck Hagel's nomination for Defense Secretary got another boost this morning when Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) became the latest Republican senator to say he'll vote to confirm his former Republican colleague. Shelby supported last week's historic filibuster, but now joins Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) in supporting Hagel's nomination.
In fact, this is the latest development that suggests Hagel is well on his way to reaching the Pentagon. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) conceded this week that Hagel "will be confirmed," and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) added that he no longer intends to block a final confirmation vote.
And yet, there are the dead-enders looking increasingly silly.
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) and 14 other Republican senators called Thursday for President Obama to withdraw former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) as his pick for Defense secretary.
The senators said in a letter to Obama that Hagel's nomination should be abandoned because it would be "unprecedented" for a Defense secretary to take over without a broad base of bipartisan support.
"In the history of this position, none has ever been confirmed with more than 11 opposing votes," the senators wrote.
First, sending a letter like this is rather ridiculous given the larger context. Hagel is picking up more support, not less, and his eventual confirmation now appears all but inevitable. It's at this point when 15 Republican senators call on the president to withdraw his nominee? The one who's about to clear the Senate with bipartisan support?
The unstated plea in the letter seems to be, "We've failed miserably to derail Hagel. Maybe you could do us a favor and let us win anyway?"
Second, it may be true that previous Defense Secretary nominees were approved with 11 "nay" votes or fewer, and Hagel will probably end up with nearly quadruple that number. But that's less a reflection on Obama's choice and more a reflection on the radicalization of Republican politics.
Up until very recently, it would have seemed rather absurd to think GOP senators would be outraged by a Democratic president nominating a former Republican senator, who happens to be a decorated combat veteran and who used to be celebrated by his GOP colleagues, for his cabinet. Yes, Hagel will have more than 11 opposition votes, but whose fault is that? If a President McCain had nominated Hagel for the Pentagon, as he previously had said he might, would Cornyn & Co. have sent today's correspondence?
Dave Weigel had a good take on this:
That's a bit of a Catch-22, isn't it? We oppose the nomination. Thus, there is substantial opposition to the nomination. Thus, because there has never been such substantial opposition before, confirmation would be unprecedented. You have to admire the goalpost-shifting attempt, as it was only six days ago that Republicans mounted the first-ever filibuster of a national security nominee, then claimed it wasn't a filibuster. The threshold for confirmation isn't 51 votes. It isn't 60. It's 89!
Cornyn and other Hagel opponents gave it their best shot. They even launched the first successful filibuster of a cabinet nominee in the history of the United States for no apparent reason. But now they should try to lose with a little dignity, and today's letter won't do the trick.