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Boehlert writes: "As Republican objections to President Obama's Cabinet picks continue to pile up in the new year, we're watching a strange collision of two favorite media trends inside the Beltway, both of which bolster Republicans."

Obama nominated Chuck Hagel as the Secretary of Defense last week. (photo: AP)
Obama nominated Chuck Hagel as the Secretary of Defense last week. (photo: AP)

Hagel, Republicans and the Farce of Beltway Journalism

By Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America

11 January 13


s Republican objections to President Obama's Cabinet picks continue to pile up in the new year, we're watching a strange collision of two favorite media trends inside the Beltway, both of which bolster Republicans.

The first is that Obama hasn't done enough to change the tone in Washington, D.C.; that he hasn't torn down the capitol's stark partisan divide. The second is that, the radical obstructionism Obama faces while trying to change the tone is no big deal. That the monumental obstacles Republicans construct, like opposing Obama's Cabinet picks, represents politics as usual and everybody does it.

It's not and they don't.

But as confirmation battles like the ugly one surrounding Chuck Hagel to become the next Secretary of Defense continue to boil, the press keeps giving Republicans all kinds of cover.

In fact, the Hagel story, in which Obama made an effort to change the tone in Washington, D.C. by including a Republican in his Cabinet, only to have the goodwill gesture trampled by Republicans, perfectly captures the skewed way the news media depict modern day politics. And the way journalists who beseech Obama to change the tone give him no credit when he tries.

Instead, we're told Obama is courting controversy, he's picking a fight, because he's doing what newly elected presidents have done for centuries in this country, he's selecting respected, well-qualified individuals whom he trusts to serve in his Cabinet. Writing for Bloomberg, Francis Wilkinson suggested that by nominating a Republican, Obama had intensified the Beltway's "polarization."

If this seems unusual, that's because it is. What's also unusual is that the Beltway press mostly refuses to acknowledge the strange obstructionist ways being adopted by the GOP as these dogged cabinet fights continue to roll out.

As New York's Jonathan Chait noted this week:

The basic assumption is no longer that the president needs only to appoint people who are broadly qualified and not wildly more radical than himself. It's that the cabinet represents a kind of middle ground between the president and the opposing party.

Chait's right. Republicans and their extended right-media attack machine led by Bill Kristol have successfully changed the rules for Cabinet nominees. And the Beltway press has let it happen without an ounce of pushback and, more importantly, without informing news consumers that a radical shift has taken place.

The unprecedented campaign to derail Obama's nominees (and derail people who haven't even been nominated yet) represents an unheard of political strategy in modern American politics. But the press insists on treating it as commonplace. The press for years now has insisted on providing no framework with regards to the radical obstructionism that now defines the GOP.

And so what's the downside for the Republican's strategy of attack, attack and attack? There is none. We've reached the point where if a handful of Republican senators go on the record objecting to a nominee, the way some have done with Hagel, the Beltway press will spend days, if not weeks, churning out stories about his "major fight" brewing to win confirmation, even though, in the case of Hagel, most of the articles quote the same handful of Hagel critics. (Not a single Democratic senator has come out against him.)

Republicans chalk that up media coverage as a victory, seeing the Obama White House as using up political capital and being dragged into "grinding personnel" fights, as Politico described it, to accomplish what used to be an almost friction-free process, appointing the Cabinet.

That's not to say previous nominees haven't received 'No' votes. When President George W. Bush nominated Condoleezza Rice to be Secretary of State after her close association with selling and planning the Iraq War, news coverage noted that some Democrats would vote against her. But the press never took seriously the idea that her confirmation would be denied; that there was a major battle brewing.

Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer reiterated that point during Rice's relatively easy confirmation: "In this country, it is customary to allow the president to choose his own Cabinet so long as the nominee is minimally qualified."

But as Chait notes, that tradition has now be turned on its head with Republicans (and conservative pundits) insisting the party out of power -the party that just lost the election--must be given considerable say in the president's Cabinet picks.

Meanwhile, the news media remain mostly silent about the bizarre turn-about that's unfolding.

Here is a perfect example, from a January 6, Associated Press dispatch [emphasis added]:

Hagel is the second straight Obama favorite for a top national security post to face criticism from Capitol Hill even before being nominated. [Susan] Rice withdrew her name from consideration for secretary of state amid charges from GOP senators that she misled the public in her initial accounting of the attacks on Americans at a diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.

That is accurate, but what's entirely missing? The simple fact that it's unprecedented for parties out of power to mount campaigns to try to block national security cabinet nominees even before they're nominated.

That key fact, the AP leaves out.

Meanwhile, most of the Beltway pundits who have chastised Obama for failing to "change the tone" in Washington have suddenly gone quiet in the wake of Obama's gesture to try to change the tone in Washington.

Following Obama's re-election, National Journal's Ron Fournier, who's written extensively about the need for bipartisan compromise, urged Obama to "reach out to Republicans with concrete and symbolic gestures." You mean like nominating a Republican to be his Secretary of Defense? Apparently not. Fournier this week belittled the Hagel move.

Meanwhile, the day after Obama nominated a Republican, Vietnam Veteran from Nebraska who scored a lifetime rating of 85 from the American Conservative Union, the Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib wrote a column lamenting the failure of politicians like Obama to work across the aisle in a bipartisan manner. Seib made no mention of Obama's across-the-aisle pick of Hagel.

So yes, the message from Beltway media elites has been quite clear for years: Obama needs to be more bipartisan. He needs to make a bold gesture to break the grip of Washington D.C., gridlock. But when Obama tried to do that this week and the gesture was slapped down by obstructionist Republicans, the press gave the president not credit and pretended the GOP's cabinet blowback was routine.

Obama just can't win with that crowd. your social media marketing partner


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+19 # Thebigkate 2013-01-11 23:44
The Republicans, like the Beltway media, are corupt! Oh yeah, forgot to mention--they are mostly corporate owned and "paid off." And not rocket scientists, to say the least. 'Nuf said.
+7 # RLF 2013-01-12 11:27
The real irony is that Obamas entire cabinet is made up of people that are or should be republicans because of their politics. With Democrats like these, I can't imagine why the Republicans would complain at all.
+7 # DPM 2013-01-11 23:48
Obviously our government is barely functional. Without going on a security apparatus "hit list", does anyone have a solution that hasn't been tried, recently?
+23 # X Dane 2013-01-12 01:14
The republicans vowed to make Obama a one term president. Of course they are infuriated that not only did he win the popular vote with a convincing 51% to Rmoney' onic 47%. He won a landslide in electoral votes.

Of course the republicans are mad as hell and they have no intentions of co-operating with Obama.

The country can go to hell as far as they are concerned. They will not work with him.

Now for the press: they keep harping that he is not reaching out, If he is not, who can blame him. I sure would not want to reach out a hand to people, who are constantly kicking sand in my eyes.

And then you can not forget that the media is indeed biased against him for they are almost entirely owned by the right wing,

No wonder that the republicans hate Hagel He has, in spades, what they lack: great personal courage. Most of them did what they could to avoid going to Vietnam. He fought bravely and risked his own life to rescue others. Sergeants are most in danger for they are leaders and out in front/

And He had the guts to go against Bush and the party and tell the truth, that the Iraq war was a giant mistake. The rest of them towed the line and was in lockstep with the party line.

Also where were they when Bush was spending money like a drunken sailor, He put everything on the credit card: Two wars big medicine gift to seniors, and then he topped it with a big taxcut
+19 # X Dane 2013-01-12 01:55

Also where were the republicans when W was spending money....we didn't have on TWO WARS, a big medicine gift to seniors. Did he raise taxes, to pay for it all, which would normally be the case?? No he put it all on the big credit card, and .......then he topped it off with a big tax cut that benefited the wealthy the most.

I did NOT hear ANYBODY crying about the debt and the deficit. NOW when Obama is trying to get a handle on things and clean up the bloody mess THE REPUBLICAN administration created NOW they are giving HIM a bad time.

They are having the NERVE to threaten another shutdown of the government. They are irresponsible unpatriotic jerks.
What they are exhibiting is terrorist behavior.

And the media is complicit, for they let Bush get away with it, and did not warn the people They did NOT say anything of what I just mentioned, but NOW......THEY are also giving Obama a hard time, and it is not just Fox... A pox on them.
-2 # RLF 2013-01-12 11:29
They (the repububs) know they can get away with the obstruction because Obama will move farther right or give in completely. He is no Liberal! He is a turncoat.
+5 # X Dane 2013-01-12 15:27
He is neither. As Fareed Zakaria said before the election in 08: He is a PRAGMATIST.

Zakaria is a very bright and highly educated man, wise to so much of what goes on around the world. His program on CNN Sunday morning is very informative.

When Obama was younger he learned to work with people, who did not share his views. It was a BIG accomplishment that he became President of the Harvard Law Review.

He had NO money, No position or connections. And he is black! What he DID have, was and is, his fine mind. He convinced everybody that he could be fair to all. That is why he does TRY to work with congress.

While at Harvard, he was working with young people also of intelligence... . In congress however,......t here is an inordinate amount of idiots.

There are way too many of Louis Gomert's, and Michelle Bachman's caliber.
They, and their constituents, who keep them in congress, are destroying the country.
-11 # Hirspray 2013-01-12 05:21
The term " the media" is confusing to me. Can the author be a little more specific?
+21 # Inspired Citizen 2013-01-12 07:46
The reason Obama can't win with "that crowd" is not because Obama is in any way "radical." He's not:

The reason Obama is being obstructed is because he's black. That is the singular difference between him and every Democrat in the White House before him. Republicans like Sen Graham pretend otherwise, but that is just part of their post-truth political tactics.

I would go so far that they may not even be aware of the racist element in their obstructionism, but I defy readers to come up with a more accurate reason Republicans would oppose a President pushing Republican ideas and Republicans for his Cabinet.
+4 # reiverpacific 2013-01-12 12:37
"Working across the aisle", is the clapped-out concept that Obama insists on trying with the party of "NO".
When will he learn that you can't work with a crowd with no ideas of their own but a mission to shout down anything progressive or with a glimmer of common sense.
+2 # hkatzman 2013-01-13 00:29
Why? Why? Why?
Why do Obama and the Democrats fall for this?
Why must he be bipartisan?
I didn't vote for bipartisan.
The country didn't vote for bipartisan.
The Republicans obviously don't want bipartisan.
I voted for change. I voted for a new progressive agenda.
Why? When he won resoundingly he does not have a mandate to lead?
Why? When his predecessor (no names please) won a tight election suddenly had "political capital"?
Name people for the cabinet who can make a difference. Name people for athe cabinet who realize there will be a fight and not back down.
When he names people who will enact the agenda WE voted for, then WE can fight for their nomination. Half-hearted "bipartisan" selections encourage no one to fight on their behalf and thus Republican obstructionism becomes the only story.

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