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It's time to confirm Hagel and move on

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FILE: Undated: then-Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel in Omaha, Neb. (AP)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) deserves thanks. He managed to go so far over the top in showing poor taste in his shameful questioning of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) during this week’s Armed Services Committee hearing on Hagel’s nomination for Defense Secretary that he managed to assure that Hagel will be confirmed, as he should be.

Cruz challenged Hagel’s loyalty and even patriotism — not directly of course, but by innuendo — in demanding that Hagel disclose whether any foreign government directly or indirectly paid him to make a speech. Even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who opposes Hagel’s confirmation on intellectually honest grounds based on serious differences of opinions on Iraq and the troop surge, was offended by Cruz’s demagoguery, and came to Hagel’s defense. McCain reminded the Texas freshman that Hagel served in battle in Vietnam and won medals for heroism.

In this space weeks ago, I expressed concerns about Hagel’s use of the phrase “Jewish lobby” as insensitive to American Jews, in that this expression evokes the canard of dual loyalty that Jews have for centuries suffered as a basis for hateful anti-Semitism. I also added I did not in any way feel that Hagel was prejudiced — only that he was uninformed or insensitive. He has since apologized for the phrase. That is good enough for me.

Yes, I and many other Americans disagree with some of Hagel’s other votes and positions as senator. But so what? He was entitled to his opinions as a lawmaker; but as Defense Secretary, he is not — he may only support the policies set by the man he works for, the president.

So it’s time for an up-or-down vote on Hagel.

This appears to be the first time in U.S. history that a Defense Secretary nominee has been “filibustered,” but so be it. (Good reporters in D.C. should “out” the senator or senators responsible for the “hold” on the Hagel vote.)

Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) has already filed a cloture petition, meaning a cloture vote is likely as early as Friday. I predict at least 60-65 senators (meaning including 5-10 Republicans) will vote for cloture to allow a vote, and I also predict at least that many will vote to confirm Hagel.

Hagel is a great patriot, a good man, a man committed to public service, a sincere man of integrity. He understands the military by definition — if for no other reason than that he served and put his life on the line bravely facing Vietnamese bullets. He has the confidence of the president of the United States. ’Nuff said.

While I respect McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who, among others, appear likely to vote against confirmation, I strongly support Hagel’s nomination and trust he will be confirmed in time to represent the United States at important NATO defense meetings next week in Europe

UPDATE:  Shortly after this column was posted, Democratic Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid (Nev.) announced there were still only 59 votes to invoke cloture - i.e., one vote shy. I still predict the 60th vote will be found somewhere in the Republican caucus. Even opponents of Senator Hagel on policy issues should not adhere to blocking an up-or-down vote for a Secretary of Defense for the first time in U.S. history. On the other hand, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina makes a valid point; the White House should be fully responsive and transparent to get all questions answered about Senator Hagel’s background, speeches, and anything else senators are asking about, including issues relating to Benghazi. Expecting transparency is not unreasonable in this situation.

Stay tuned

This column originally appeared on The Hill

Lanny Davis, a Washington attorney and principal in the firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, specializing in legal crisis management and dispute resolution, served as President Clinton’s special counsel from 1996-98 and as a member of President Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board from 2006-07. He currently serves as special counsel to Dilworth Paxson and is the author of the new book, "Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping With Crises in Business, Politics, and Life," (Simon & Schuster March 2013). Follow him on Twitter at @LannyDavis.