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May 6, 2006
The Spectre of Specter Descends On Hayden

Earlier today I wrote that the nomination of General Michael Hayden would present Democrats in the Senate a golden opportunity for mischief, and also noted that a few Republicans might be tempted as well. Tomorrow's Washington Post confirms the latter, as Arlen Specter told an interviewer that he planned to hold up Hayden's confirmation as leverage for a more complete briefing on the NSA surveillance program:

Not only Democrats expect to use a Hayden nomination to revisit the legality of the surveillance, however. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who has held four hearings on the matter, said he may try to hold up Hayden's confirmation if the administration does not provide more information about the eavesdropping. He said he would try to persuade fellow senators to use the confirmation as "leverage."

"I was briefed by General Hayden and I got virtually no meaningful information," Specter said in an interview. "Now with Hayden up . . . this gives us an opportunity to ask these questions and insist on some answers if the Senate is of a mind to deny confirmation."

Specter has become quite the thorn in the side of the White House ever since Bush endorsed him in his re-election bid in 2004. Many of us, myself included, agreed with Bush that -- in the immortal words of LBJ -- it was better to have the senior Senator on the inside of the tent pissing out than outside pissing in. That same philosophy drove the administration to insist that Specter also gain the chair of the Judiciary Committee. Unfortunately, in both offices, Specter has made all of us regret our support more than justify it, and this is no exception.

The senior Senator from Pennsylvania makes quite a sport out of exploiting Bush's political weakness after getting help from the President with his own. Specter's attempt to gain leverage on this issue plays directly into the hands of the Democrats who intend on forcing Hayden to answer probing questions on the NSA intercepts, attempting to get a very public briefing in lieu of the private sessions Bush has already held with the SSCI and Senate leadership. When Hayden refuses to answer -- as he must -- the Democrats will declare that Hayden cannot be confirmed from his lack of cooperation. Normally it wouldn't matter, but Specter and a few other Republicans like Lincoln Chaffee and Chuck Hagel could easily torpedo Hayden's confirmation.

However, on the plus side, the Post reports that the White House anticipates a battle and may even wish to generate one. Unlike with Harriet Miers, conservatives will appreciate Hayden and rally to support his nomination. Picking a fight with the Democrats gives the White House yet another argument to paint Democrats as soft on national security, hoping that the solid majority in favor of the NSA intercept program will eventually wear his opposition down once and for all.

The Democrats, on the other hand, hope to force Hayden to issue enough refusals to answer questions and keep the answers he does provide so vague as to wear down that majority support -- and with it, Bush's base of support for the war itself. That's the risk that Bush runs with the appointment of Hayden, and with Feingold on the committee, the risk is real enough. If Feingold begins to get traction during these hearings, more Democrats will start calling for further hearings on the NSA and Bush. If not, he can kiss his presidential aspirations goodbye.

This hearing will have much more impact and volatility than the Alito and Roberts hearings. Much more rides on its outcome than a judicial confirmation. The result will likely determine the course of the November elections, the next President, and the future of the war on terror. Hopefully the White House really understands these stakes.

Finally, the Post's reporters on this article, Peter Baker and Dafna Linzner, provide a laugh when they mischaracterize the nature of the turf war taking place in the American intelligence community. The article says that Congress will be concerned with Hayden's appointment in terms of the reach Donald Rumsfeld has in the intel services. Hayden's appointment would put a military man at the head of all the intel services, but the real story here is the expansion of influence by John Negroponte, not Rumsfeld. Congress may have its issues with Rumsfeld, but they have openly debated cutting off funds to the DNI to keep him from what they consider empire-building. They will have concern with turf wars and Hayden's appointment, but Rumsfeld won't be the problem they wish to resolve.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 6, 2006 10:54 PM

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