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Choosing Nomination Battles

Republicans don’t seem to be retreating from the battle over Chuck Hagel. Senator James Inhofe, the new ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has added his name to the list of Republicans opposing the defense secretary nominee. The question is, how far will the party be willing to go on this fight? There are other nominations it has an interest in fighting, including Jack Lew for treasury secretary, John Kerry for secretary of state, and John Brennan for CIA chief. In the end, it will only be able to choose a couple to focus on.

The point of battling Lew wouldn’t necessarily be to prevent his confirmation outright, because there is no indication that Obama would choose someone preferable. But threatening a fight could help bring attention to policy differences between the GOP and the White House, and hold Lew accountable for his slippery relationship with the truth.

Brennan is a different story. Republicans don’t necessarily have a problem with his nomination, but they want to block him primarily as leverage to uncover more information about Benghazi. This is less defensible than blocking a nominee because of concerns over competency, temperament, policy differences, etc. Democrats will frame it as political gamesmanship, and they will have a point.

There have been some rumblings about opposing Kerry, but none serious and he’s expected to get through easily.

At this point, the Hagel fight appears to be the most winnable one for Republicans. The fact that he disavowed his past positions suggests the White House realizes the political risks of having a big, public debate over Middle East and Iran policy. Senate Democrats seem willing to support Hagel, but are they really willing to fight for him? Not just during the confirmation hearings, but also if his confirmation ends up getting blocked? I can’t imagine they want this debate either, which, for Republicans, may be all the more reason to go ahead with it.