You’ll hear it all over cable news and the networks and in every lede paragraph from the Washington Post to the LA Times: Republicans are conducting an unprecedented filibuster of Chuck Hagel.
Where did the media get this buzz word that’s repeated breathlessly by the obedient servants of the White House? From the White House, of course:
Asked about the Senate vote during an online “fireside hangout,” Obama said that he expects that Hagel will be confirmed. But he slammed Senate Republicans for their “unprecedented filibuster” of a defense chief nominee.
So, is the cloture vote for a President’s cabinet secretary really unprecedented?
To answer the question, we first have to address the question the media isn’t asking, but should be: Is it unprecedented for a president to put forth such an unqualified, controversial and divisive nominee to head the Pentagon and thumb his nose at Senators asking legitimate questions before moving to a straight up or down vote?
You’ll see reports backing up the smokescreen “unprecedented” charge that include this statement: Only two previous Cabinet officials required 60 votes before confirmation, and this has never happened for a Defense secretary nominee.
Compelling, isn’t it? But, doesn’t it beg the question: “Who were the other two cabinet officials?” It’s a pretty relevant question. But the media doesn’t really include the information in these hysterical charges of unprecedented! Why not? It’s not like they have to research back to the Millard Fillmore presidency to find them. In fact, the media only has to look back to the last president, George W. Bush.
That’s right, the Hagel cloture vote is unprecedented except for the other two times a cabinet secretary needed 60 votes, and both of those filibustered nominations were Bush nominees facing Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)’s minority Democrats.
Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Environmental Protection Agency head Stephen Johnson both had to meet a sixty-vote threshold. At the time, those filibusters really were unprecedented, because it had never happened before in the history of the republic. Now that it has happened to Hagel, the third time in ten years, it’s hard to describe it as unprecedented… unless the fact that it is President Obama’s nominee being held up raises the issue to a higher level.
So why is the media so focused on parroting administration talking points? Because that’s what they do. When Republicans ask for the same paperwork from Hagel requested from then-Senator Hillary Clinton during her Secretary of State hearings, or from Henry Kissinger during his Secretary of State hearings, the media cries foul. They get upset when Republicans insist on disclosure, even though the media covered for Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) when he asked for all of Mitt Romney’s tax returns without any evidence of wrongdoing. They rip media outlets that dare to vet Chuck Hagel. They are the palace guards. And today’s keyword, “unprecedented,” is merely their most convenient weapon.
The media’s repeated abdication of its most fundamental duty — to inform the public about the beliefs and past of its politicians — sees its height during these Hagel hearings. No wonder President Obama felt so confident nominating Hagel. He knows that Hagel, being a Democrat-nominated candidate, will get a free pass he never would have gotten if he’d been nominated by a Republican.