As I write this, the Senate is voting on the nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. It is doing so without a single word of debate (other than a quick summation of his resume by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan). So, after voting two weeks ago to reject cloture on the nomination — a move by definition meaning that the opponents want more time for public debate — those same opponents now are not taking the opportunity to, you know, actually debate. No summary arguments will now be recorded for history about why so many found the nomination so troubling. No attempt will be made to lay before the public a full, well-organized, incisive explanation of what the stakes are. All that remains is the impression that senators two weeks ago threw a mere hissy fit, utterly pointless except to show that they could stomp their feet and whine if they darn well wanted to.
Opposing senators two weeks ago asked for more time to examine Hagel’s record. Plenty of new material has emerged since then, much of it serving to reinforce the earlier objections to the nomination. And plenty of other new material, even material intended for eventual release to the public, remains publicly unavailable for now specifically because Mr. Hagel refuses access to it. This, of course, raises questions about what else Mr. Hagel is hiding.
So, having demanded time for new material to emerge, and having seen new material emerge, why are the opponents now declining the opportunity to discuss those materials, and to review the old ones, for the public record, and to try to convince some of their colleagues to withdraw their support? By Senate rules, 30 hours of debate is allowed post-cloture. Cloture was invoked yesterday. Instead of 30 hours, though, the Senate used all of about three minutes, featuring only the aforementioned summary by Sen. Levin.
This is a disgrace. It would be a disgrace if the shoe were on the other foot and it was a Republican nominee who might have to wait a whole extra day or two before taking office. It is a disgrace because it is an abdication of the Senate’s responsibility to hold open debate for the sake of the public, whenever weighty issues are to be voted on.
Citizens should be sickened that we have been put through two more weeks of bother, all in the name of further debate, and then denied any serious debate at all.
No wonder the public so often remains in the dark about the real workings of, and reasoning behind the workings of, their elected Congress. No wonder the public holds Congress in such contempt. That’s what contemptuous behavior elicits — and today’s lack of debate was contemptuous indeed.