confirmation hearing

'Fiddling While the World Burns:' A Faithful Response to Partisan Gridlock

Gina McCarthy, Public Domain, U.S. Government via Wikimedia Commons

Gina McCarthy, Public Domain, U.S. Government via Wikimedia Commons

Last week, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million – nearly 15 percent over what many scientists estimate is a safe level. Amid this and other crises in creation, the Environmental Protection Agency needs a strong leader to navigate the complex policy and economic situation that governs environmental policy.

In March, In March, President Barack Obama nominated Gina McCarthy to lead the EPA. At the time, many regarded her as a shoo-in, as she has held top posts under Republican governors, was endorsed by many in the energy industry, and has acted as assistant administrator of the EPA under President Obama since 2009.

It was surprising, then, when all eight Republican members of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee decided to boycott McCarthy’s nomination hearing. This surprise decision, which effectively canceled the vote, was part of a longer-term pattern of obstruction and partisanship on once-routine matters.

In the face of such unprecedented risk to human health and well-being, many were surprised that senators tasked with studying issues of clean air, clean water, and similar issues put ideology ahead of fairness in obstructing the vote. Sen. David Vitter, the leader of the obstructionist group, said it best himself in 2005 when discussing judicial appointments: “I think that every nominee deserves a vote. It’s a matter of fairness.”

Angry Senators Afraid of Debate

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Senate Armed Services Committee during former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel's confirmation hearing. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

It was the biggest story inside the Beltway. Since last Thursday’s hearing, the whole Washington media machine has been discussing and dissecting the extraordinary confrontation in the Senate Armed Service Committee regarding the potential confirmation of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as the new Secretary of Defense. Several Republican senators were extremely combative with the combat veteran who earned two Purple Hearts for his wounds in Vietnam. Hagel deserves another Purple Heart for the wounds his former “friends” and party members tried to inflict upon him. Hagel didn’t really defend his views — which were both caricatured and attacked by his adversaries — perhaps on White House advice not risk further debates before being confirmed.

But I think Hagel’s views and the important questions he has raised about current U.S. wars and military policy deserve defending and, indeed, should become the subjects of a national debate. So I wrote a piece about one of Hagel’s most hostile questioners who insisted the possible new Secretary answer the simple question of whether the surge in Iraq was “right” or “wrong.” I said it was wrong, as was the war in Iraq, as was the war in Vietnam, as are the views of John McCain on war throughout his entire political career; and how the nation has been wounded by McCain’s and others’ “theology of war.

Chuck Hagel’s views could lead us to a necessary national debate if he becomes the new leader of the Pentagon. And it is that potential debate that Hagel’s critics are so afraid to have.

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