Chuck Hagel vs. ‘Advise and Consent’: Know Your Constitutional Duty, Senators

The Senate is about to approve perhaps the most inept secretary of Defense in history — at least in prospect — because too many senators believe they are supposed to be deferent to the president regarding cabinet appointees.

Their assigned constitutional role is to “advise and consent” to presidential appointments. This clause has not a thing to do with whether or not a senator should defer to a president of one’s own party, or another; indeed, the wise men who wrote the Constitution made no mention of political parties in the document. Yet somehow, many unfamiliar with the writing of the document imagine that the notion of checks and balances enshrined within applied to checks and balances among political parties.

No. Their goal was not to separate partisans, but to separate key branches of government, which had specific and enumerated and delineated powers. Without getting into all the details of those powers, one of the checks and balances they put into the document required “advise and consent” by the Senate (part of the legislative branch) prior to confirmation of an appointment desired by the executive branch.

To repeat: the idea was not that one party should check the power of another, as the Constitution does not mention parties. It is that one branch (legislative) should check the power of another branch (executive).

The idea was that no branch was to “rubber-stamp” another, though this is the opposite of what many senators appear to believe.

When you hear a senator, a member of the body whose duty is to “advise and consent” on presidential appointments, say:

I don’t believe Chuck Hagel, who is a friend of mine, is qualified to be secretary of Defense. But I do believe that elections have consequences, unfortunately, and the president of the United States was re-elected.

… understand that this senator is disobeying his oath of office and misunderstanding his role. It is not to rubber-stamp the president’s choice, but to (as the words suggest) “advise and consent.” Or not.

Senator Hagel has made it abundantly clear — not just in his blunders in the Senate confirmation hearings, but with his mediocre record in all other engagements in life — that he is unfit for the office of the cabinet member most responsible for the defense of our nation. (I suppose being elected to the Senate could be said to be a major achievement, but such a notion is belied by all the other mediocrities that have attained such a supposedly lofty position.) Note Hagel’s antipathy to our only true ally in the Middle East; his unwillingness to release his speeches containing further evidence of his sympathy for our enemies; our enemies’ endorsement of him; and his general inability to even describe the foreign policy principles (to the degree that they exist at all, other than to reduce America’s influence in the world) of the dysfunctional administration of which he apparently longs to join. It is incumbent on a Senate to understand its constitutional role and to reject this political hairball that the administration coughed up, this political cover for a long-held desire to gut the nation’s defense under the guise of a supposed opposition party member.

The Senate, despite its partisan balance, must at long last recognize its constitutional role of checking the power of the executive branch to impose such an unqualified nominee on the nation.

Sadly, we are long past the point at which the political class prioritizes the Constitution. In their minds, checks and balances are “Republican” versus “Democrat,” or “liberal” versus “conservative,” rather than executive versus legislative versus (ultimately) judicial. Most of the low-information voters who put the current political class into place, and kept them there, don’t understand this either.

The worst secretary of Defense since the late Les Aspin is about to be approved by a Senate ill-informed regarding its constitutional role.