A picture of Senator Richard J. Durbin
Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Executive Session

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2013-02-14

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    DURBIN. Madam President, this is rare. Twice in the history of the Senate have we had a filibuster involving a nominee for a Cabinet position--twice.

    But especially disappointing about this is that it was just a few weeks ago that we came together on a bipartisan basis and we said: We are not going to do this anymore. We are going to try to work together. We are going to try to avoid these filibusters. And here we have, sadly, a historic filibuster over an appointment of a former Senator-- Chuck Hagel, a Republican of Nebraska--as Secretary of Defense.

    I know there is controversy associated with his nomination, but I also know Chuck Hagel. I served on the Senate Intelligence Committee with him. We served together in the Senate. There is no question in my mind that the President made a good choice.

    I will also tell you that you need to know a little bit about the man to understand why it is a historic choice. Chuck Hagel volunteered and enlisted in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era. That was not a casual decision. That was a time when enlisting in the Army meant you might risk your life. He lucked out; he got stationed in a theater that wasn't at war. But what does he do next? He volunteered to go to Vietnam. He volunteered as an enlisted man to go to Vietnam. And he went there--with his brother, incidentally, the two of them--to serve in the U.S. Army. He was involved directly in combat, was given the Purple Heart for his service, and he told me personally about days he will never forget as long as he lives. So does Chuck Hagel know what it takes to be a soldier? Does he know what it takes to lead the Department of Defense? He certainly does.

    I served on the Senate Intelligence Committee with him. I know his feelings on the issues. And when I listen to how some of his positions have been distorted, I find it hard to believe.

    Chuck Hagel was a conservative Republican Senator and an honest man of integrity. And some of the things that have been said about him, some of the charges that have been made in the course of the Armed Services Committee were just embarrassing, to think that colleagues in the Senate would say that about a man they knew and served with personally, or they should have known better than to say. That is why we are here today.

    The sad reality is that I have listened to many Republican Senators who are not going to vote for Chuck Hagel come up here and talk about how important it is to fill this position. The North Koreans detonated nuclear devices this week and raised concerns all over that part of the world and beyond. We know what is going on in the Middle East, in Syria and other places. We still have 68,000-plus American soldiers who are literally risking their lives--while we meet in the comfort and security of the Senate Chamber--in Afghanistan. They are risking their lives, and we are saying: Well, we would sure like to appoint a Secretary of Defense, but we have to make a political point here today. We have to vote against him today and put it off for 10 days, and then we may reconsider it again. God forbid something awful occurs in the next 10 days. I hope it doesn't.

    There are still good people at the Pentagon, and I am sure they will do a good job, but we should have that Secretary of Defense--one of the most critical appointments in the President's Cabinet--filled. This notion that we have to make a political stand here and stop Chuck Hagel today to make some political point really troubles me.

    Some of the requests for information about Chuck Hagel go beyond any of the standards of disclosure we have ever seen before. This isn't fair. It isn't fair to Chuck Hagel. It isn't fair to the President. It certainly isn't fair to the men and women in uniform all across the United States and around the world who are risking their lives for this country.

    Those who come to the floor and say that in 10 days, he will be fine, for goodness' sake, swallow your pride. Let's make sure we vote for him today. Let's fill this spot. Let's not have this sad historic filibuster on this appointment to the President's Cabinet.

    I really hope my colleagues will reflect on what Chuck Hagel has meant in his life, his service to the country, his service to the State of Nebraska, and his service to this Nation as a Senator. He is a good man, and he will do a good job in the Department of Defense. I trust the President's judgment.

    For anyone who thinks they are making a political point in order to kind of show the President that we can still filibuster, I remind them it was just a few weeks ago that we stood on the floor of the Senate and said we were going to be more thoughtful about the use of the filibuster in the future; we were going to be more careful that we don't politicize it. Unfortunately, what is happening today is a serious disappointment.

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