Scan the websites of the leading Tea Party political organizations and one will soon see among the group’s top issues is preventing the federal government from becoming too large and powerful. As a rule, Tea Party members are suspicious of too much power being centralized in any one place within government.
With that in mind, it was surprising late Tuesday afternoon when scanning the Senate roll call vote on former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination to become U.S. defense secretary. Voting “yay” were four GOP senators. One was Hagel’s home-state Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska. That’s local politics at play, so it makes sense that Johanns would help send a Nebraskan to the E-Ring. Also voting for Hagel were two former Senate colleagues, Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Richard Shelby of Alabama. And, of course, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky — wait, what?!
It turns out that was no typo. Paul, who earlier Tuesday had voted to keep alive debate on Hagel’s controversial nomination, had indeed voted to confirm him.
What gives, senator?
“I voted no [to end debate] because I wanted more information. I think part of the advise and consent [function] that the Senate does is to try and get information about the nominee,” Paul told reporters as he left the Senate chamber. “But I’ve said all along I give the president some prerogative in choosing his political appointees. There are many things I disagree with Chuck Hagel on. … There are very few things I agree with the president on. But the president gets to choose political appointees.”
To summarize, a skeptic of government power voted with the chief executive based on a philosophical belief that the president should be granted the ability to pick his senior-most advisers, giving those individuals tremendous power as senior government officials.
Your correspondent will go out on a limb here. Paul’s vote on Tuesday had very little to do with Charles T. Hagel. It had almost nothing to do with Barack H. Obama, a president Paul has fiercely criticized on a long list of issues. To be sure, Paul had an eye on late January 2017, when a new president will be sworn in and will have to construct a Cabinet.
Does the junior senator from Kentucky — who already has established a national brand and following — have presidential ambitions? You bet. Here’s what he told ABC News late last year: “I’m not going to deny that I’m interested.” It seems clear the Tea Party’s new national face wants a lot of say over whom he would pick as Cabinet officials in a Paul administration. How ironic.
The 2016 presidential campaign has begun.
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