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. Jonathan

    i think the republicans in congress would eat their young. this is not the republican party of old. this one is hell bent on destroying america no matter what.

    February 14, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  2. joyce

    This won't help them win an election. They tried a lot the last four years and it didn't work. He can't run again but another democrat can and any of them could beat any one the repubs can put up.

    February 14, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  3. jboHDrider

    Our government is so totaly broken, it is amazing. Nobody in the legislature should be paid a cent. My recomendation? Let's forget about parties and vote out every encumbant for the next four years. Your senator is a Republican, vote for a different GOPer or for a Democrat. Your congress person is a Demacrat, vote for a different Demcrat or a Repulican. Run every single one of them out of office and I bet the next batch will start working for the people and not for their special interest pay offs.

    February 14, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  4. Laughing at the GOP

    How long will the country be held hostage by these grumpy old men and their fixation with keeping the money in power?

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

    Does anyone know why o-BAM-o and his hires keep silent about the how's and why's a US employee got murdered? Does anyone want to know their parts in the whole affair?

    February 14, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  6. B4Cons

    The Grand Obstructionist Party is at it again. The Mid Terms can't come soon enough,

    February 14, 2013 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  7. Texhimself

    Shame, shame,shame on the GOP. You have now proven that party and contributors matter more than our country and truth. I will never vote for a Republican again, you are beneath contempt.

    February 14, 2013 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    They have no integrity. They are weak in charctor. I hope poeple will wise up and do not re-elect them. They are insulting to all of us and poisoning our Country. Let's get rid of them?????

    February 14, 2013 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  9. Alex

    Does Hagel's sad face or answers or track record deserve the leadership of our defense forces?

    February 14, 2013 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  10. cedar rapids

    'Anonymous – See Republicans even hold each other accountable'

    Thats an interesting way of saying the repubs would even block one of their own in order to go against Obama.

    February 14, 2013 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  11. Cyprustree

    The party of No at it again. They don't seem to have a clue of their own, so all they can do is say NO to anything and everything coming from the White House. They should get their heads out of the sand before they become totally irrelevant.

    February 14, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  12. Steven

    Even a blind man can see that there hatred is no for the country but against an African-American, 2 term President named Barack Obama. Their blind hatred has caused multiple setbacks and embarrasment of our now dysfunctional country. It is also hard for them to swallow the idea that the economy is showing strong signs of recovery under President Obama. Until the Republican party becomes a party for all Americans instead of a few their demise is ineveitable.

    February 14, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  13. Laura518

    John McCain, you have become a disgrace. I am a Democrat. And you had the respect of BOTH parties – until the last few years. Do you know how transparent you are? We can all see how you hate that Obama, the young black man that not too many people heard of BEAT YOU IN THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE. You haven't stopped trying to block everything President Obama has tried to do. Whether it be a Democratic idea or Republican. You behavior during the hearing with Hagel made you look like a bitter, old, mentally ill man. You have ruined your legacy. I even forgave you for picking Palin (when not alot of others did). Shame on you.

    February 14, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  14. Loki

    the party of NO strikes again

    February 14, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  15. marti

    So tired of republican arrogance and stupidity. No common sense, no national pride, only selfishness and narrow mindedness. Do the people that voted them in not see this?? I know I will actively work to oust Texas senators Cornyn ans Cruz. We need level headed republicans

    February 14, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  16. TomGI

    I'm sure McCain will be front and center at the press conference. He'll have nothing substantial to say and his hand will be shaking incessantly but he will have a new tie on and his nurse will have combed his remaining hair in a senatorial appropriate "doo"

    February 14, 2013 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  17. Tom

    This just goes to show the republicans are eating their own. I have no idea why these neocons love war so much. Hagel is a great man. I guess the GOP doesn't like him because he's, in their eyes, anti-war and speaks the truth about Israel.

    February 14, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  18. Mike from Seattle

    The GOP is the model for how a union should strike. Nothing gets passed them.

    February 14, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  19. fsjunkie

    This is so disgusting. The GOP will be shutting down the military next.

    February 14, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  20. chris

    Why can't Republicans grow some balls and not worry about what the tea party and Grover Norquist think? Proves only in it for self, not people or country!!! What a shame

    February 14, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  21. Speaker07

    The President of the United States should be able to select the person he/she wants in cabinet positions. The antics of the GOP senators and representatives of the Congress severely impede the President from carrying out the business of the American People. The actions of the GOP are short-sighted and just plain stupid!!!!! I will do everything in my power to get them voted out of office. They are the problem that we face everyday in our country!!!!

    February 14, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  22. DM

    The GOP just cant help themselves! Keep it up–might as well schedule the movers for 2014!! You are done

    February 14, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  23. rODNEY

    Well glad to know that since Obama is no longer a Senator that there is still someone who is that votes present like he always did!

    February 14, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  24. Steven

    their, not..... I hate typos.

    February 14, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  25. D

    Epic. Obstructionism.

    Stay classy, GOP!

    February 14, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
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