Opinion | Senate within constitutional right to block Hagel nomination
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 21, 2013 23:02
Last Thursday, the United States Senate did something it does not usually do, which was filibuster a cabinet nomination. While the Senate is very good at blocking legislation, the blocking of a prominent cabinet nomination is rather unheard of.
Senator Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be the new Secretary of Defense has caused several Washington insiders to scratch their heads on why the former Republican Senator from Nebraska received such a rancorous backfire from his former colleagues. Hagel’s former ally, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) blasted Hagel on Meet the Press Sunday morning citing his change in ideology, and unanswered questions on the terrorist attack on Benghazi as why the filibuster occurred.
A theory that cannot be ignored is that while President Obama touted Chuck Hagel as a bi-partisan choice, Senate Republicans have turned on their colleague because of his cozying up to the administration’s policies in these last few years. This shows that Senate Republicans still wish to wield what votes they have in the Senate in order to remind President Obama that they hold the power of advice and consent.
Article II, Section 2, paragraph 2 of the Constitution cites that the president may appoint and act on certain matters only with the advice and consent of the Senate. Too often is this rule of the Constitution forgotten because of the quick confirmation process that occurs with many high ranking cabinet officials and public officers.
The Senate filibuster on Hagel’s appointment was the first time that the Senate had filibustered a nominee for the U.S. Secretary of Defense. It goes to show that the Senate Republicans are not going to let the White House continue to leave questions regarding Benghazi unanswered. While the American public is used to seeing the Senate refuse to act on legislation or other inferior appointment such as those to the judiciary, the theory of advice and consent is still very much alive.
Whether one may agree or disagree with the merits of filibustering Hagel’s nomination, it is worth taking note that the Senate is acting in a manner that is well within the powers granted to them within the Constitution. What many tend to forget, or fail to understand about the Senate is that it is a body that is designed to stop legislation and action whenever it can. The Senate’s complex system of rules and voting methods only foster the atmosphere of hindering action.
While I do believe that the citation of something as being part of the “checks and balances” structure of government is used too often in rudimentary explanation of the branches of government, advice and consent is something easily forgotten by those who look at this situation. Rarely do the American people see the United States Senate use a cabinet position or major judicial appointment to critique the administration. According to the official record of the Senate, the chamber has rejected only nine cabinet nominations (The most recent being another Obama nominee, Tom Daschle for Secretary of Health and Human Services). While many of these candidates have been rejected because of their lack of qualifications, or demons of their past, Chuck Hagel’s nomination is the only in recent memory to be blocked because the Senate’s discontent with the president. This check on the White House is further proof, that Republican Senators will not be silent.
What should be noted in this situation is that the use of advice and consent is only a constitutional rationale that can be used to explain the filibuster on Chuck Hagel.
Too often do the members of the Senate forget this constitutional right, and it should not be. The use of advice and consent does not mean that the Senate should give a simple up or down votes to those who are presented by the president.
While the filibuster is a great tool to be wielded by the minority members of the Senate, its greater ally is that they have no obligation to approve appointments to major departments of the government.
When floor speeches and public statements may only be caught by the politically savvy, the greater statement being made by the minority is their action. The refusal to consent to a major cabinet post is a major action that shows they will not be taken advantage of when it concerns answered questions concerning national security.
The complexities of Senate rules and procedure need not be considered when looking at the Hagel filibuster. During this recess, senators should remember that the simplest rule of all could be found at the foundation of American government. Senate has been given great deference when asked to consider who the president deems qualified to lead his vast agencies. It would do them well to remember that the Constitution is on their side when considering their defense of the Hagel filibuster.