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Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) faces his long-anticipated confirmation hearing today before the Senate Armed Services Committee for the position of Secretary of Defense. The hearing will not only be an examination of Hagel’s qualifications and views, but will test whether the Senate’s “advice and consent” process is a serious filter for potential Cabinet nominees, or merely a rubber stamp and a forum for political grandstanding.

The Senate’s recent performances have not inspired much confidence. Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put on a dramatic yet thoroughly evasive performance during a hearing on the Benghazi attack last week. Her successor, John Kerry, faced few tough questions about his questionable record on foreign policy issues. Senators used the allotted time to offer their own views but wasted an opportunity to question his.

Democrats in particular have shown little inclination to question any of the president’s nominees, and made a show of their uniformly effusive praise for Clinton. The partisan divide created around President Obama is evidently so polarizing that Democrats are more concerned about falling in line than they are about defending the legislative body to which they were elected, which has traditionally shown far more independence.

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