Senate Democrats maintaining a majority helps Hagel’s chances, especially since President Obama just started his second term, said podcast host Bruce Carlson.
“The Senate has historically granted the President deference on such decisions,” Carlson said. “Nominations tend not to be derailed unless there are strong ethical lapses. Usually when that happens, the President withdraws” the pick.
In the rare instances when the Senate rejects a presidential cabinet pick, it usually comes when the President’s opposition holds at least 51 seats. That was the case when Democrats rejected President George H. W. Bush’s pick of John Tower as Defense Secretary.
Like Hagel, Tower was a Republican Senator. However, Carlson said Tower’s reputation for bullying colleagues and accusations of alcoholism and womanizing were too much to overcome. The Senate rejected Tower by a 53-47 in an almost exclusively party-line vote.
Carlson calls the Senate’s advise and consent authority “a sleeping constitutional power.” It’s a power rarely used, typically once in a generation. But when that power is exercised, it can effectively limit the President’s power.
Prior to Tower, the last rejection was of Admiral (Ret.) Lewis Strauss, President Eisenhower’s pick for Commerce Secretary in 1959. Upon hearing the rejection, President Eisenhower said it was “the second most shameful day in the history of the Senate,” falling only behind the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson.
Coincidentally, while President Johnson survived impeachment, he too had cabinet picks rejected thanks to Radical Republicans upset at the President’s Reconstruction agenda.
“It takes an extraordinary amount of partisanship”
The most intriguing rejection happened in 1925 when Charles Warren, President Coolidge’s pick for Attorney General, lost confirmation in a tie vote. Despite the tie, Vice President Charles Dawes was not presiding over the body and could not cast a vote to confirm.
According to Carlson, Dawes was assured the debate would continue for hours. So the Vice President retired to his hotel for a nap. However, Warren’s opponents withdrew their requests to debate, which expedited the vote. A call was placed to Hawes to return, but a traffic jam delayed his return by nearly 10 minutes. Efforts to revive Warren’s nomination also failed.
Future Obama cabinet picks may face a tougher process. That’s because President Obama’s influence will wane as his term draws closer to an end. However, Carlson believes the Senate will confirm Hagel,
“Nonetheless, I have a feeling that when Hagel’s name comes up in the Senate floor, (Vice President) Biden will not be sleepy,” Carlson said.
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