I’m a week late (blame my vacation, followed by an illness) . . . but I can’t let it go without mention that Republicans in the United States Senate have filibustered President Barack Obama’s (D) appointee to serve as Secretary of Defense.
Obama, perhaps in an effort to appear bipartisan and even-handed, has nominated former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE)—who will be his token cabinet Republican after Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s (R) resignation takes effect. That would be fine if Hagel didn’t have a history of wishy-washy statements on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, or if he hadn’t made such a generally-embarrassing and ill-prepared showing at his Senate confirmation hearings. I don’t blame anybody for wanting to vote against his confirmation; by all accounts, he’s a bad fit for the job. But filibustering nominations—a popular pastime of Republicans and Democrats alike—is not a valid, constitutional option.
The United States Constitution (Article 2, Section 2) clearly states that, “[The President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law. . . . ” In other words, the president must make an appointment, and the Senate must vote on confirmation. The Senate has every right to refuse to give consent—to reject an appointment—but the Senate may not sit on its thumbs and do nothing. A filibuster is not advice, nor is it a vote on consent. A filibuster is abdication of a clearly indicated constitutional responsibility.
I think the filibuster is stupid in general, but the Constitution gives the Senate the authority to make up its own rules for how it operates. So our hundred senators are welcome to filibuster regular bills any time they like in accordance with the rules of their house. But the Senate may not use the filibuster to avoid doing the things it is explicitly required to do, like evaluate nominations, hold impeachment trials, and count presidential electors. These are not optional activities that may be done or not-done at-will. They are part of the duties of the Senate.
Every presidential nominee—Hagel included—must be given an up-or-down vote in the Senate. If the Republican minority really doesn’t think he is qualified, they can [and should] vote against him. He’ll probably be nominated anyway. So be it. That’s how it works. Many Republicans complained bitterly about Democratic minority obstructionists in the Senate who blocked many of President George W. Bush’s (R) federal court appointees, and many of those same Republicans—now that they are in the minority—have turned into obstructionists themselves. Enough. Vote yes or no, and move on.
Update, February 26, 2013, 5:23 p.m. (ET): The Senate narrowly voted to end debate earlier today, and then voted to confirm former Senator Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense.