The Steering Committee of the Alabama Republican Party has taken the rare step of officially requesting that one of the state's two GOP U.S. Senators change a publicly announced position in a high-profile Washington battle. Specifically, the state party leaders have passed a resolution "respectfully call[ing] upon" Sen. Richard Shelby to "reconsider and reverse his decision to support Senator [Chuck] Hagel to be Secretary of Defense." The resolution, passed early this afternoon, blasts Hagel for statements "favorable toward" countries "that we believe to be enemies of the United States of America," and also criticizes him for "not being a supporter of Israel, the only dependable ally the United States of America has in that part of the world." It notes, too, that "many Alabama citizens have expressed outrage at Senator Shelby's decision."
This is big stuff. Sen. Shelby is a powerful politician, and the state party long has been supportive of him. But his support of Hagel seems to really have created a backlash.
"It has been an outpouring from people across the state," State Republican Chairman Bill Armistead told me. "There have been phone calls from a lot of people, plus we've all been approached by people we know at churches and in our communities. I haven't seen anything this strong in opposition to something done by one of our representatives in Congress in a long time."
(Armistead stressed that this does not indicate opposition to Shelby in general, but only that it was very strong opposition to this one decision.)
This resolution by the state Republican Party comes on top of a very energetic response, along similar lines, by state Tea Party groups, who sent out blast emails urging people to call or write Shelby's office to complain. With polls showing growing public opposition across the political spectrum to Hagel's nomination, I think Republican senators are missing the boat if they don't understand that this is one fight they can win by standing firm -- not just win legislatively, but win politically too. And I bet if they put some pressure on some Democrats in the Senate, those Democrats will be seeing the same reaction among their own constituents and might start feeling some real heat if they continue to support the nomination themselves. And, of course, opposition to Hagel has lots to recommend it on a substantive, principled level as well.
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