Sahil Kapur

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.

Articles by Sahil

In all of U.S. history, just 9 presidential nominees for cabinet positions have been rejected by the Senate. And just 12 were withdrawn before coming to a Senate vote, according to the official Senate record.

The eye-opening statistics provide context to upcoming Senate confirmation processes as President Obama seeks to reshape his cabinet for a second term, including the selection of Chuck Hagel to lead the Pentagon.

The Senate has historically granted the president broad deference on such decisions. Nominations tend not to be derailed unless ethics lapses make the candidate politically toxic, experts say.

"Most felled nominees were tripped up by personal mistakes or questionable ethics," said Sarah Binder, a Senate expert and professor at George Washington University, pointing to John Tower, Zoë Baird, Linda Chavez and Tom Daschle. Binder says nominees, such as John Ashcroft, have been subject to opposition due to policy views but are ultimately confirmed.

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Then-Sen. Chuck Hagel's remark to the Omaha World-Herald in 1998 that Clinton ambassadorial nominee James Hormel was "openly aggressively gay" was only a part of what Hagel told the paper about his opposition to Hormel's nomination.

In additional comments that appeared in the same Omaha World-Herald story on July 3, 1998, Hagel said that Hormel's gay conduct in public goes "beyond common sense" and concluded that a gay performance group of men in drag as nuns was "anti-Catholic" upon seeing a video of Hormel at one of its events.

Hagel told the paper at the time that being gay shouldn't disqualify a candidate from being an ambassador, but that Hormel's conduct would diminish his effectiveness.

Hormel "very aggressively told the world of his gayness and the funding and all the things he's been involved in," Hagel was quoted as saying. "I think you do go beyond common sense there, and reason and a certain amount of decorum."

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Denying decorated war hero and foreign policy luminary Chuck Hagel the Pentagon's top job will be a daunting task for his opponents.

But Republicans are spoiling for a fight against President Obama over the nomination of the former GOP senator for secretary of defense. If their early hostility matures into a broad party line, Hagel's prospects for confirmation could hinge on the Democrats who have so far declined to endorse the heterodox Nebraskan for the key cabinet post.

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Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) tweeted his reaction Tuesday morning to the nomination of Chuck Hagel to become the next secretary of defense. 

As Republicans plan their opposition strategy on Chuck Hagel's anticipated nomination as the next secretary of defense, Democrats are digging up and circulating examples of top GOP senators saying nice things about their former colleague in the past.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in particular was a vocal advocate for Hagel's character -- even after his dissent on U.S. foreign policy regarding Iraq and Israel were well-known.

In 2006, while he was preparing to run for president, McCain was asked whether he'd consider Hagel for a cabinet post. "I'd be honored to have Chuck with me in any capacity," he said. "He'd make a great secretary of state."

Two years later, McCain reaffirmed that position after securing the Republican nomination, telling The Associated Press that Hagel is a "respected leader in America" who "served his country admirably, with honor and distinction."

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The White House responded Monday afternoon to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) recent contentions that the tax issue is "finished" after the fiscal cliff agreement.

"No," spokesman Jay Carney said during his press briefing. "We believe any further deficit reduction, which there must be in the president's view, must be pursued with the same balanced approach the president has insisted on up to now."

He said new revenues are still necessary and that President Obama still supports tax reform.

"There are loopholes that are crying out to be closed," Carney said.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) weighed in Monday afternoon on Chuck Hagel shortly after President Obama nominated the former Republican senator to be the next secretary of defense.

Cantor said in a statement:

"I am profoundly concerned and disappointed by President Obama’s nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense. Recent reporting has made clear that Senator Hagel’s views and inflammatory statements about Israel are well outside the mainstream and raise well-founded doubts that he can be trusted to manage the special relationship the United States shares with our greatest Middle East ally.

"Senator Hagel’s incendiary views of Israel are only the tip of the iceberg. On Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and defense spending, Hagel’s reported views call into question his judgment about the most important matters facing our national security. Taken together, Hagel’s views represent a call for a broad retreat from the preeminent role America has played, and must continue to play, in the world during a period of profound tumult and instability.

"Hagel opted for political expediency in opposing the surge in Iraq, and supported a retreat that would have ceded victory to al Qaeda and Iran. The nomination of a man known primarily for opposing sanctions and military action against Iran strongly suggests that all options are not on the table. Hagel’s nomination telegraphs weakness in the Middle East and defeatism in Afghanistan, where our Afghan partners will surely be concerned, and our Taliban and Iranian adversaries will surely be emboldened.

"There has been widespread and bipartisan opposition to this potential nomination, and the President’s willingness to move forward despite these concerns only reinforces the signal that he agrees with Hagel's extreme positions. Senator Chuck Hagel is the wrong man for the job at such a pivotal time."

As a member of the House, Cantor won't have a vote on Hagel's confirmation.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) said Monday that Chuck Hagel's nomination for Secretary of Defense "will be controversial," predicting that he "probably will" be confirmed although it's "not a forgone conclusion."

Cardin told Current's "The Bill Press Show" that Hagel "needs to clarify" some of his previous statements and answer questions before earning his support.

The transcript:

HOST: “Good morning, so, first question to you, senator, what do you think about the Chuck Hagel pick from the president?”

CARDIN: “Well, I think it will be controversial. I hope most senators will take their responsibility to advise and consent and let the process move forward. Let's go through the hearings. There are some statements that Senator Hagel has made that he needs to clarify. And we’ll see how the confirmation process proceeds if he’s nominated. But it will be controversial.”

HOST: “Do you think he’ll make it through, though, senator?”

CARDIN: “You know, I am not – the answer is yes, I think he probably will. But I would not -- it's not a foregone conclusion. The Republicans right now seemed to be well organized in opposition. There are Democrats including this senator who have questions that have to be answered before I can support him. So the process is going to have to go forward if the president nominates him. And that's what the confirmation hearings should be about. It should be about putting on the record some of the statements he's made, how he feels about Iran and sanctions, how he feels about US policies towards Israel and the Middle East. I think all those issues need to be on the record so the American people can hear Senator Hagel defend some of the charges that have been made. But quite frankly, I don't think we should pre-judge this."

Watch the video, clipped by the Republican National Committee.


Ahead of his expected Monday nomination for Secretary of Defense, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) endorsed Chuck Hagel for the cabinet position.

Reed said in a statement:

“Chuck Hagel will make an outstanding Secretary of Defense.  He is highly qualified and his record of service to this country as a decorated combat veteran, successful CEO, senator, and statesman is extraordinary.

“Chuck is a man of uncommon independence and integrity.  Chuck Hagel’s candor, judgment, and expertise will serve him well as our next Secretary of Defense.

“I fully support his confirmation.”


Reed also tweeted his thoughts: 

Echoing President Obama's refusal to negotiate on the debt limit, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) warned Republicans on Friday that Democrats have no intention of giving in to any of their demands in exchange for lifting the nation's borrowing limit to pay its bills.

"I think that risking government shutdown, risking not raising the debt ceiling, is playing with fire," Schumer told reporters in the Capitol, in response to a question from TPM. "Anyone who wants to come and negotiate, and say 'we will raise the debt ceiling only if you do A, B, C' will not have a negotiating partner. And if then they don't want to raise the debt ceiling, it'll be on their shoulders. I would bet that they would not go forward with that."

The No. 3 Democrat declared that Obama and congressional Democrats have learned their lesson from the 2011 fiasco that nearly led to a default. He predicted that Republicans will give in and cleanly raise the country's borrowing authority -- which expires around March -- if Democrats stonewall and give them no other option.

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