Don’t Over-Interpret the Hagel Vote Delay

Chuck Hagel arrives for a meeting with U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) on February 7, 2013.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The email in my inbox, from the ad hoc anti-Hagel group Americans for a Strong Defense, reads: “HAGEL’S NOMINATION DERAILED.” It’s one of several blasts that have come from Hagel opponents over the last 24 hours, pronouncing an enormous setback for the nominee over his failure—his inability, according to Hagel—to provide more sheafs of documents about who funds the Atlantic Council.

People: “Derailed” means that something has been called off, defeated, lost. I understand the importance of hyping every Hagel setback as a bunker-busting game changer—his foes have done a remarkable job of controversializing this nomination. But this isn’t the first hard-fought nomination to face a delayed vote after a filibuster starts to look impossible. In January 2009, Sen. John Cornyn blocked committee proceedings in order to win a one-week delay of the Eric Holder confirmation vote. Later that year, Jeff Sessions—one of the Republicans pleading for more Hagel docs this time—asked for, and received, a one-week delay of the Judiciary Committee’s vote on Sonia Sotomayor.

Hagel’s opponents want another week to tear down the nominee on Sunday shows and the like. They want the media to look at this delay and think of the document requests that were used as a pretext for Harriet Miers to withdraw her nomination. But those document requests were egged on by conservatives who didn’t want to vote for Miers. There’s no real fall-off in support for Hagel from Democrats or filibuster-wary Republicans.