February 14th, 2013
11:28 AM ET
2 years ago

Republicans stall Hagel nomination

(CNN) – The Senate failed to garner enough votes Thursday to stop a filibuster against Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel.

Fifty-eight voted to move forward with the nomination, while 40 voted to hold it up. One senator, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, announced present, and Republican Sen. David Vitter missed the vote.

Democrats needed 60 votes to end a filibuster, but the move failed due to GOP opposition surrounding questions about Hagel's finances, as well as remaining tension between some Republican senators and the White House over the terror attack in Benghazi, Libya.

The chamber largely voted along party lines, with the exception of four Republicans who voted with Democrats.

Republicans, however, signaled they're willing to allow the nomination to proceed after recess, when only a simple majority of 51 votes are required to stop a filibuster. The Senate is not in session next week.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin's office announced the Senate will take up another vote to move forward on Hagel on Tuesday, February 26.

Filibusters of cabinet officials are extremely rare, largely because senators typically believe a president has a right to pick the leaders of his government.

"I regret that Republican senators, except the valiant four, chose to filibuster the nomination," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor. "Republicans have made an unfortunate choice to ratchet up the level of destruction here in Washington. Just when you thought things couldn't get worse, it gets worse."

The White House sent a letter to Capitol Hill Thursday stating that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Libyan President Mohammed Magariaf the same night as the attack. President Obama, according to the letter, did not speak to the Libyan president until the evening of the day following the violence.

Read the letter obtained from a Democratic official here.

Before committing to vote on Hagel's nomination, three GOP senators–Sens. Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Kelly Ayotte–had demanded answers about the attack in a letter Tuesday to the Obama administration. Graham publicly stated that he was specifically asking whether Obama called Libyan officials on the night of the attack against the consulate in Benghazi, which left four Americans dead.

The administration had been wary of responding-saying the GOP was simply moving goal posts-but the response was a sign they were losing patience and getting nervous about the Hagel nomination.

Showing further scramble on the part of the White House to keep Hagel afloat in the confirmation process, Vice President Joe Biden made calls Thursday to Republican senators about the nominee, according to a senior Democratic source.

Hagel has been battling his way through a rocky nomination process. Democrats were at one point confident they had the 60 votes, including five Republicans, needed to stop a GOP filibuster, but concerns suddenly escalated Wednesday when McCain said he was reconsidering his previous commitment to vote against a filibuster.

McCain, R-Arizona, said Thursday evening on Fox News that Republicans approach to the Hagel vote was colored by past experiences.

"To be honest with you ... it goes back to [that] there's a lot of ill will towards Senator Hagel because when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly and [said] he was the worst president since Herbert Hoover and said the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War, which was nonsense," McCain said. "He was anti-his own party and people. People don't forget that."

McCain now says he's satisfied with the answers the White House provided to questions about Benghazi and that he is in negotiations to get answers about Hagel's finances. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and other GOP senators want to know the source of Hagel's income in the years after he left the Senate.

"I think it was an adequate response, yes," McCain said about the Benghazi matter. "We are working on and having negotiations now trying to smooth this thing out and get it done."

But he later said on the Senate floor that will vote "no" to ending the filibuster on Thursday. He will, however, vote "yes" after recess.

"That is sufficient time to get any additional questions answered and I will vote in favor of cloture on the day we get back and I believe that my colleagues, enough of my colleagues will do the same," he said. A cloture vote would allow the nomination to proceed.

Graham, R-South Carolina, agreed and also told reporters he would vote for cloture after recess unless some huge "bombshell" comes out over the next week. His comments signaled that the votes will be there for Hagel when the Senate resumes session the week after next.

Multiple Republican senators told CNN earlier Thursday that they also planned to vote against ending a filibuster, saying the vote is too rushed with outstanding questions. When they hold a filibuster vote after the chamber gets back from recess, then they will allow the nomination to go through and the Senate can hold an up-or-down vote on Hagel.

Democrats, on the other hand, see this as a time to make it seem like Republicans are opposing Hagel for political reasons and holding the filibuster vote Thursday, as opposed to after recess, would further illustrate that objective.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, one of the few lawmakers to go against her own party on the vote, said she voted for cloture because "I said I was not going to support a filibuster, and I stuck by my word." Murkowski was one of the senators who spoke with Biden on Thursday.

Susan Collins of Maine, another Republican senator who voted yes, said she thinks the president should be able to choose his own cabinet. But she plans to vote no on Hagel when it comes to an up-or-down vote.

Reid took to the Senate floor on Thursday morning, building pressure on Republicans to back off of their threats. He added that the letter sent from the White House answers "all their questions."

"This isn't a high school getting ready for a football game or some play that's being produced at the high school," he also said. "This is, we're trying to confirm somebody to run the defenses of our country, the military of our country."

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says he will remain in his position until a defense nominee is "sworn into office," a senior Pentagon official said Thursday.

Administration officials and Congressional Democrats said they were on the phone late into the night Wednesday discussing how to get Republican votes. The sources said the administration had been told they did not have enough GOP votes to gain the necessary 60 to stop a filibuster.

Meanwhile, some questioned whether Hagel would withdraw his nomination. But one senior administration official said that idea is "insane."

Referring to the GOP, the official said, "No one knows what they really want. There is nothing real to be had."

"They wanted testimony from (former Secretary of State) Hillary Rodham Clinton and Leon Panetta and they got it...there is nothing real to be had," the official continued.

Hagel's brother Tom, a law professor who's in constant contact with his brother, also said Hagel will not withdraw his name.

"Knowing him, not only will he not withdraw, but he will be motivated to fight harder," he said.

Asked Wednesday in a press conference whether the GOP was moving goal posts on the issue, Graham gave a firm "no."

"I'm gonna hit you, and keep hitting you," he vowed. "Absolutely. You're not going to get away without answering the basic questions. Did you make a phone call on September 11th to any Libyan government official using the weight and the voice of the president of the United States to help these people in their time of great need."

Speaking aboard Air Force One, however, White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest stressed earlier Thursday a sense of urgency in filling the new defense secretary position.

"It is difficult to explain to our allies why exactly that is happening. It also sends a signal to our men and women in uniform who are currently deployed around the world and who are currently serving in the frontlines of Afghanistan and are taking fire today," he told reporters. "They need a new secretary of defense. So we urge Republicans in the Senate to drop their delay."

– CNN's Athena Jones, Barbara Starr, and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.

soundoff (948 Responses)
  1. Lenny Pincus

    Republican opposition rests entirely on conservative fantasies: Breitbart's "Friends of Hamas" that doesn't exist, the manufactured Benghazi "scandal", and David Vitter's diapers. The midterms should be fun.

    February 14, 2013 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  2. The Middle Class not enough

    Looks like the Republicans after destroying the American middle class now wants to destroy the US Army !!! THe last place where they had any support..now thats also gonna vanish !!!

    February 14, 2013 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    all lost people commenting dont know what is going on in the world today. on just follow your democratic views..open up and look around weigh different side..

    February 14, 2013 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  4. oldfolkie

    Don't fool yourself, Even Reagan, with his position on taxes, guns, and immigration wouldn't be approved by the narrow-minded, self-righteous, extremists in the Republican/Tea Party

    February 14, 2013 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  5. HighwayBill

    Another nail the GOP (grumpy old politicians) is putting in their own coffins. Another unprecedented use of the filibuster. The american public is seeing what they're all about; No new ideas, so they play the only hand the have which is to obstruct the political process. What a bunch of cowards. If they dont like Hagel, then have the balls to vote no for confirmation. Good job Mitch.

    February 14, 2013 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  6. Sniffit

    GOP/Teatroll message to the country: "If we're going down, we're taking the rest of you with us."

    February 14, 2013 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  7. Sad Republican

    The Republicans are dead to me now. Thanks for crucifying one of our own.

    February 14, 2013 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  8. Jonas

    What is wrong with Republicans? Why do they hate this country so?

    February 14, 2013 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  9. Lisa P.

    But he later said on the Senate floor that will vote "no" to ending the filibuster on Thursday. He will, however, vote "yes" after recess.
    ----------------------------------

    Sure you will, John. You've already proved yourself a liar and a disgrace to your office - no reason to dig in any deeper.

    The people of Arizona need to see about retiring Senator McCain. He's nothing but empty suit, inflated ego and meaningless obstacle at this point.

    February 14, 2013 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  10. Don

    These republicans are domestic terrorist's. They block any attempt to move this country forward.
    I hope the American people will get their fill off the the party of NO and remove them from office the next election.

    They offer no proposals to improve anything just block any progress that this administration attempts to make.

    Say NO to the party of NO,

    February 14, 2013 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  11. RAINDEVIL5

    It appears that he is NOT qualified for this position. Do you really want this??

    February 14, 2013 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  12. Monica

    I say hooray to the GOP for finally getting a backbone! You cannot seat a secretary of Defense until you are 100% proof positive he isn't in the back pocket of our enemies. If you all can't understand that then you have no clue what the position entails. If Hagel is so clean, why does he refuse to turn over his financials? What is he hiding? The concern is legitimate, get over it.

    February 14, 2013 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  13. carol

    Reid is going to rue the day he caved on changing the rules of filibuster. It's his fault this happened as much as it is the obstructionists'.

    February 14, 2013 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  14. markmango

    GOP = epic fail. you guys are so done.

    February 14, 2013 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  15. jerpell

    I love it when the Republicans finally act like Democrats!

    February 14, 2013 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  16. Sniffit

    This is the first time a cabinet nominee has EVER been filibustered. EVER. IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF OUR NATION. THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE. This is extremely damaging precedent the GOP/Teatrolls are setting. And it's all because the GOP/Teatrolls are mad that their entirely unrelated witchhunt for an excuse to impeach Obama hasn't panned out the way they'd hoped. Hagel's nomination should not be held hostage to something unrelated. It should be decided on its merits and its merits alone. This is beyond ridiculous.

    February 14, 2013 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  17. rs

    One can only imagine if during the Bush years, the Democrats had pulled the same stunt. Filibustering the first Secretary of Defense while we had troops in the field! I mean really their heads would have exploded with rage and indignation. Ashcroft would have had every Democrat bundled off to Gitmo for re-education.

    Frankly, despite their endless whining that Mr. Obama is mean to them and won't negotiate, I think it high time we simply declare war on the GOP, and govern without them. They are useless imbaciles. They'll never come around to anything resembling rational thought, and we have years of experience after going after the Taliban (so we know their tactics), and it would be far cheaper than doing anything they support.

    February 14, 2013 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  18. Lynda/Minnesota

    Have fun digging out of the gutter, GOPers.

    February 14, 2013 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  19. Jake

    I thought the Republicans wanted to show a kinder gentler face to the American people.

    February 14, 2013 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  20. Bill

    The Republicans are an embarassment to the country.

    February 14, 2013 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  21. rick

    nothing new here. we've averaged, since our history, one filibuster every decade. the gop has managed over 400 in the last 4 years.
    obstructionism. plain and simple.

    February 14, 2013 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  22. lifelongrepublican

    I'm so disappointed at my party. I dont see myself voting republican again until they clean up the party. This is just plain anti-patriotic.

    February 14, 2013 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  23. Pete

    Republicans set the fillibuster record at 375 and climbing,what do they want Pres.Obama to say I give and kneel before the supreme republicans..Just wait righties your time is coming midterms and don't say we didn't warn yah jackasses,pure arrrogence hiding the ignorence but republicans been this way for years haven't they!!

    February 14, 2013 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  24. Marie MD

    Can somebody explain to me where this ted cruz came from and why ca't he be sent back to whatever rock he crawled from under? Then we have ms. linday fron SC (come out of the closet and bring bachman's husband with you please!) who has become another crazy rethug.
    These folks are becoming the most hated group behind any terrorist who wants to desttroy our country except that they consider themselves American and patriots.
    Our founding fathers and every man or woman who gave their lives so these rethugs could do what they are doing without going to jail for being traitors must be turning over in their graves.

    February 14, 2013 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  25. Former Republican, now an Independent

    Should the American citizen expect anything but obstruction from the republicans in congress???

    February 14, 2013 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38