When it comes to the Senate's "advise and consent" role on cabinet nominees, this really isn't a constructive development.
Two U.S. senators have written a letter to Chuck Hagel to ask the defense secretary nominee to explain his assertion that "the State Department was becoming an adjunct of the Israeli Foreign Ministry." Hagel, the Washington Free Beacon reported yesterday, made the comment in 2007.
"Dear Senator Hagel," Senators Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte write. "Yesterday, the Washington Free Beacon reported that in a 2007 speech at Rutgers University regarding America's relationship with the Middle East you remarked that 'the State Department was becoming an adjunct of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.' According to notes posted on the internet by a Republican political consultant and supporter of yours, George Ajjan, you made the remarks during the question and answer period following the speech."
So, let's take stock. A strange website with a troubled reputation published an unsubstantiated rumor about something Chuck Hagel is accused of having said in 2007. There is no proof that Hagel made the comment or anything like it, but two Republican senators nevertheless demanded an explanation.
In other words, for Graham and Ayotte, there's nothing odd about effectively saying, "We heard some unsubstantiated rumor on a website we know little about, and we expect you to take it seriously and provide us with an immediate explanation."
Can anyone seriously consider this a healthy development for the American political process?
I'm trying to imagine the next time there's a Republican president, and he or she nominates a cabinet nominee Democrats don't like. I wonder what the reaction might be if two Senate Dems wrote a letter to the nominee saying, "A left-wing blog called Jim's Rumor Shack.com reports you said something provocative several years ago, and though there's no proof and the website has no credibility, we believe you have a responsibility to respond."
And yet, because Washington has become so deeply silly, Hagel went ahead and denounced the comments he has no recollection of making, which in turn made Lindsey Graham happy.
How gracious of him.