A short while ago we moved reports that Chuck Hagel was stepping down as Defense Secretary. Not terribly surprising. Cabinet secretaries step down. He’s President Obama’s third Defense Secretary. But reports are following quickly on this news saying that Hagel was essentially fired from the job. White House officials and apparently Pentagon officials as well are more or less openly telling reporters that Hagel was told to resign because they simply did not think he was up to the job.
Now, there are a couple points here.
One is that this is a difficult time for the President to have any major cabinet secretary step down because the new GOP Senate majority – seriously smarting from the immigration executive order (technically an ‘executive action’) – is going to make it really, really hard to get anyone confirmed. All things being equal, far easier to keep everyone in place.
Second, it’s one thing to push someone out. It’s another thing to fairly openly tell people someone was pushed out. This kind of stuff does not just bubble out. When word gets out this quickly and consistently, it’s by design. You don’t have to do that. You can tell a person it’s time to go, keep the number of people in the loop tight, and allow the secretary to make it seem like it was his or her own decision. That does not appear to be what happened.
Early reports are that Hagel will appear at an announcement ceremony with the President this morning. So that suggests some limits on the extent to which the President is going to wash his hands of Hagel. But, wow. From what we’ve heard so far, there’s really no policy issue. They just don’t think he is up to the challenges of the job. Ouch.