February 14th, 2013
11:28 AM ET
1 year 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. Mike from the Midwest

    I have voted Republican in every election since 1988 (my first opportunity to vote) up to President Obama's first election in which I voted for him. I voted for Obama again last year. I have had more than my fill of the radical, propaganda-spewing, lying, hating and vengeful GOP. I vow NEVER to vote for ANY Republican running for ANY office (from dog catcher to school board member to local, state or federal office)! These people have lost their way and have done absolutely NOTHING for the American people since Obama won his first term. I am a Christian and I know that radical christian's (little 'c' intended), big business, the NRA and other special interest groups are behind the lack of cooperation and progress at our nation's highest levels.

    At least President Obama and the Dems are TRYING to help the majority of the American people and not just those who help pad their pockets with campaign donations and other incentives. The GOP today is reprehensible! They are far from representing God or anything remotely Godly. They are akin to a bunch of rich and spoiled school kids who, when they don't get their way, gather their toys and take them home. Sensible America needs to stand up against these schoolyard bullies and elect them right out of office in favor of people who WANT to work for ALL AMERICANS and not just the elite few!

    February 14, 2013 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  2. Andrew

    As long as McCain, McConnell & Cantor are around, we will never get anything done.

    Time for term limits.

    February 14, 2013 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  3. Ben

    This is disgusting on the part of the republican party. It all goes back to the fact that the night Obama was inaugurated they had a meeting to not do anything that he wanted to do. They were going to vote no on everything. First of all this party needs to go. They need new direction. Secondly, they will destroy this country. I hope they are happy with the way they are acting. It's very sad.

    February 14, 2013 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  4. Larrs3

    After the way the Republicans have acted for the past four years, and the massive obstructionism they have launched against Obama in his second term, I'll never vote for another Republican.

    February 14, 2013 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  5. Filthburger

    I wonder how much water Rubio is drinking about this.

    February 14, 2013 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  6. loucioccio

    As Ron Reagan would say "There you go again…" The Republican are really doing they did it to Kerry (Nam Vet), Max Cleland (lost body parts in Nam), Hagel (who enlisted while others had more important things to do).
    What a political party sleeping with the NRA who ought to show them how to point the weapon away from themselves??

    February 14, 2013 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  7. Patrick in Wisconsin

    Dave W, Hagel's a republican (gasp!).

    February 14, 2013 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  8. brad

    don't worry, after all is said and done, Hagel will win the nomination.. All this is doing is destroying the GOP. This will only hurt them.. If you give them enough rope, they will hang themselves with it.. the Midterm elections are going to be a massive wakeup call. They are a dying party who may already be dead.

    February 14, 2013 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  9. DJ Reality

    Do we need any more proof of how the republicans want to work with our president? Time after time they show me that they are the problem and not the solution. Hey! Republicans what ever happened to job legislation? Our was that focus on jobs a crock?

    February 14, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  10. Wow

    The republican party will be dead by the 2020 election

    February 14, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  11. Randy, San Francisco

    Republican behavior is simply disgraceful and unpatriotic. Have Republicans set a precedence for the future? Don't blame Democrats if they use the same partisan tactics if it was a Republican presidential nominee.

    February 14, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  12. Mec

    Israel 1, Iran 0.

    However this may still end up with the nomination. At least the GOP is keeping the Dems and Team O honest.

    February 14, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  13. Greenspam

    Republicans should continue to filibuster until Chuck Hagel announces that Obama is the Anti-Christ.

    February 14, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  14. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Jonas

    What is wrong with Republicans? Why do they hate this country so
    -------------------------------------------------
    They don't care about the country, they HATE the President.
    This is so shameful. I am so embarrassed by these Republican's behaviour.
    Inexcusable.

    February 14, 2013 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  15. ItSoNlYmE

    Many decades ago, my very wise old grandfather told me, when I asked him what "GOP" stood for, "It means generally opposed party". And that was decades before the joke of a political party the GOP has become today. Do these yahoos not realize how utterly ridiculous this kind of stunt makes them look? I guess I can answer my own question. Heaven forbid they should actually DO what the (grossly misinformed) voters sent them there to do. Heaven forbid they should actually govern the country.

    February 14, 2013 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  16. oddjob3422

    This is ugly, but certainly not unprecedented.

    John Bolton.

    February 14, 2013 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  17. Mary

    What a disgusting show of Republican senators who are impotent as far as senate business is concerned. Now they won't be in session next week. They have proved one thing. They'd rather speak and prove they are fools,than stay silent and just give the impression they are fools.

    February 14, 2013 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  18. meh

    Republicans concerned about his finances? They sure didn't seem to care about Mitt Romney's finances, and he tried to be Prez.

    February 14, 2013 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  19. Name

    Isn't Hagrl a republican? They don't trust the guy, I'd say that's a great reason to oppose him.

    February 14, 2013 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  20. al

    i hope when mid terms the republicans get thier ass kicked they are THE party of fools

    February 14, 2013 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  21. Anonymous

    Thanks GOP for showing your true colors! Your actions are making the prospect of 2014 even more interesting. If you thought 2008 was bad with the amount of seats you lost, just wait for 2014.

    February 14, 2013 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  22. Skimaster1955

    Can't even get the GOP to back one of their own. GOP is screwing this country up! An American Vet!

    February 14, 2013 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  23. Mom

    Maybe Obama should just answer the question. Seems like a simple solution.

    February 14, 2013 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  24. jason

    Vote Republicans out in 2014! They are finished!

    February 14, 2013 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  25. i_know_everything

    that's it...no more compromises from us either...2014, we vote them out

    February 14, 2013 05:42 pm at 5:42 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