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. Marco Rubio

    Where's my water? Oh, it's over there. Way over there?

    February 14, 2013 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  2. Paul

    Republicans are just so pissed (they thought Romney was a shoo in) that they will do anything to stop this president from accomplishing anything. Problem is it is hurting us all. They have filibustered jobs bills, appointments, violence against women act, storm relief, healthcare for poor women, etc. etc. Just goes to show that they don't give a damn about this country and don't give a damn if they destroy it–just as long as they can punish this president. Shameful

    February 14, 2013 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    See Republicans even hold each other accountable, I am sure The 16 year old chaser from New Jersey would also get total support from the Dems if he was nominated for a cabinet post

    February 14, 2013 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  4. Merritt J Swift

    Obamas judgement is poor to say the least.History will abour that man and you will to when your eyes are opened.I wanted to believe.

    February 14, 2013 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  5. Gordyb102

    The GOP is gasping it's last breath of air as a political party and on its way to becoming a political farce.

    February 14, 2013 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  6. Jack- NYC

    Way to go Republicans! Obama is already the drone overlord, let's stop this nomination! He is too much of a war hawk and Obama being Bush 2.0 can't fly anymore. Stop this inflammatory move and scale down the drone strikes!

    February 14, 2013 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  7. Dan

    Republicans have lost my vote forever. McCain/Graham et al are an embarrassment. Please retire. You are so sad. History will not be kind to them, they will be viewed the same as Strom Thurmond. An embarrassment to the country.

    February 14, 2013 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  8. Jack- NYC

    Good job guys

    February 14, 2013 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  9. works4me

    Wait... the Republicans blocking something. Say it isn't so.
    It's about time these Republi-can'ts started looking in the mirror

    February 14, 2013 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  10. Joe

    Republican want everyone to conform to their view, ideology.
    They are willing to stab one of their own if they perceive he/she strays from their view.

    February 14, 2013 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  11. hopeismyname

    For some reason Senator Graham and Senator McCain are becoming the caricatures from the movie "Grumpy Old Men"...it seems that whatever is going on they need to growl and rattle their canes....it also appears to be a "marriage" in parts...whatever JM says...LG will support......these two are somewhat comical in their bluster yet scary in their power. I haven't seen a lot of common sense or reason and I haven't seen any movement toward good by their bluster....Ms. Ayotte needs to check her allegiance as the group is becoming a bit limited in their credibility....

    February 14, 2013 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  12. Paul

    I guess the Republicans did not get the memo that the American people are tired of the stubbornness, the negativity, the obstruction of the business of peaceful governance, that we want them to work with the Democrats and the President to do the work of governing, and stop playing political football. The hypocrisy is sickening. They are holding the government hostage over questions that have been answered about two Americans dying overseas. After 9/11, when 3000 Americans died on American soil, I heard not one Republican asking President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, or Secretary of State Colin Powell any questions, nor did they obstruct the business government to do so. When those men even stated they would refuse to answer questions, these same Republicans did not bat an eye, AND QUESTIONS STILL REMAIN!!! Stop the madness Republicans, because the only points you are scoring are safeties for the other team you fools!

    February 14, 2013 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  13. don smith

    I t looks like the usual Washington and they need to sort out their act as the country is going down the drain. It is like Nero fiddled while Rome burned down . Have a bill about sanctions if government does not work In law it is called OBSTRUCTION

    February 14, 2013 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  14. wildernessyes

    Wow, can't even vote for one of their own. Republicans are so dysfunctional and so bad for our nation.

    They need to go.

    I can't wait for the 2014 mid-term elections.

    February 14, 2013 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  15. Ken Slater

    I'm sick and tired of all these political parties putting their party above what's best for their country. As far as I'm concerned shut it all down. Do away with the parties or let the republicans fade away as they are doing now.

    February 14, 2013 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  16. abmri60

    A republican trick ??

    February 14, 2013 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  17. Ted

    As an Independent, I applaude the 40 senators for questioning of Hagel to be sure that we are electing a man cabale to lead US military during perhaps the most challenging times. I am not impressed with this sad-faced appologetic Hagel to be that leader.

    February 14, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  18. Wow

    Wait..... this is supposed to make me want to vote republican next election?? I have to say as a millenial who has now voted in 2 elections, I never really got to see both partys. Since I have been of voting age, its always been the party of equality, fairness, and "us", versus the party of discrimination, biggotry, and "me". Its disgusting. I hear stories about these great conservative leaders of the past. I'm skeptical that any of them would be a member of today's GOP

    February 14, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  19. ksiner

    Teapublicans aren't interested in governing, just obstruction and the next election. American needs to wake up and get as many teapublicans out of the House and Senate so this country can address some of the problems we face. EMBARASSING!

    February 14, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  20. Bill

    Google news had a survey and 82% responding said the republicans should not block the nomination. In my opinion what they should do is resign.

    February 14, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  21. Sly

    Republicans despise the US Military, and used their votes to block a new military chief, even from their own ranks.

    The party of 11% has shot itself once again in the foot over a non-issue (the politicians 'finances'?).

    Our strong President doesn't need this Republican nominee – he only chose Hagel to show cooperation as he 'reached across the aisle'.

    The proper move now is to name an ultra-liberal Democrat instead – The Republicans cannot block the nominee, only prolong the crisis.

    Once again, like Benghazi, the Republicans are showing they will block all help for the military, even if it means dead ambassadors and such.

    Borders on treason, but then again, these are the Tea Party members, most of whom share anti-government feeling's in common with that LA Cop Killer. Birds of a feather ... burn together.

    February 14, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  22. Branden Floyd

    II am neither Democrat or Republican, but I am so damn sick of politics and specially the Repubs. this country is always stuck because of them, no matter what the issue. If Obama said it was sunny outside and it was, the Repubs would say it is raining. I would like load them all (our leaders) up and send them to Mars, but would ruin and other planet i am afraid.

    February 14, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  23. Joe

    As social network is spreading, this kind of behavior will be recognized by more and more reasonable people as obstruction, selfishness, me first country later.... and they will pay at the poll, more and more each time, until republican brand is dead, reduced to minority permanently

    February 14, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  24. JPX

    Wow, the republicans continue to be disgusting. This is why you lost in a landslide, GOP! Keep up the good work!

    February 14, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  25. Ted

    Do we really want this sad-faced appologist to be our military leader?

    February 14, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
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