The Norman Transcript

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January 19, 2013

Hagel nomination faces opposition

WASHINGTON — In the middle of a bitter fight over a Republican president’s nominee for defense secretary, a former White House occupant pleaded with senators to give the president his choice for the Pentagon job.

“Unless there is conclusive evidence against the nominee, the Senate should respect the right of a new president to choose the men and women he believes are best qualified to serve in his Cabinet,” former President Richard Nixon said in March 1989.

Nixon’s request fell upon deaf ears. The Democratic-controlled Senate, on a largely party-line vote, defeated the nomination of John Tower amid allegations that he was an excessive drinker, womanizer and held close ties to defense contractors — all charges that he denied.

It was an ignominious outcome for the former four-term Texas senator as it marked the first time the Senate had rejected one of its own for a Cabinet post. Republican President George H.W. Bush, on the job barely two months, absorbed the political blow.

More than two decades later, President Barack Obama’s nominee for defense secretary, two-term former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel, faces stiff opposition from fellow Republicans who are willing to ignore Nixon’s plea — and perhaps even toss aside their own words from 24 years ago — and vote against Hagel.

While not even Hagel’s critics have tried to liken the nominee to such lightning-bolt names as Tower and one-time Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, they do argue that the principle of protecting a president’s prerogatives on Cabinet choices comes into play nevertheless.

The two politically charged confirmation fights over Tower and Hagel offer obvious parallels and notable differences, especially in a Senate short on traditional comity.

The Defense Department took issue with the comparison.

“This confirmation process is about one nominee and one nominee alone: Chuck Hagel and his strong record on the issues and his proven ability to lead. People should resist the temptation to draw historical comparisons that don’t add up,” the Pentagon press secretary, George Little, said Friday in London, where he was traveling with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

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