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. Jim Logan

    In a big way it is the Democrats own fault. They had a chance to fix the filibuster at the beginning the the term and failed to do so. What could they expect from the the Republicans in return except exactly this kind of nonsense.

    February 14, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  2. jal

    I am with the GOP on this one. Sen. Hagel seems preoccupied..

    February 14, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  3. Alex

    These clown aren't going out of business in Tel Aviv any time soon.

    February 14, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  4. Papa

    Typical. If Obama nominated Boehner, the rest of the GOP would object. That's what has been wrong with this country for the past 4 years. Obstruction by the GOP. They don't care if it is one of their own. Turn on 'em like a pack of wolves. It's time the Republican party was voted out of office once and for all.

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

    George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell. These three men never answered any questions about the countries security on 9/11/2001. Could you imagine the reaction by Republicans had the Democrats obstructed the governance of this country because of that? Republicans, the hypocrisy is sickening. Stop it.

    February 14, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  6. Clinton M

    I am truly convinced many, not all Republicans are racist and do not like a black president in Office, and they will stop at nothing to destroy whatever President Obama tries to do.

    February 14, 2013 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  7. Orygun Duck

    They are holding out for the pro-war candidate.

    February 14, 2013 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  8. Michele

    Here goes the party of NO again. They must all be brain dead .....they just do not get it!

    February 14, 2013 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  9. JohnRJohnson

    Chuck Hagel is quite a man. No nonsense. Tough. Practical minded. Very smart. On top of all that, he's veteran with two Purple Hearts. None of that is good enough for Lindsay Graham and John McCain, who have decided that THEY should pick the Secretary of Defense rather than the President. These are sad, ugly, and destructive times in Washington thanks to a handful of men with serious personality disorders.

    February 14, 2013 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  10. stateschool

    The Party of No strikes back. It's a good thing that this is all a game and that nothing serious is at stake. After all, imagine if these were the people running our country. Wait...

    February 14, 2013 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  11. Nina

    They have no INTEGRITY. They do more harm to our society than helping us. They are insulting the people and poisoning our Coutry. Let's get rid of them for God sakes????????

    February 14, 2013 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  12. Dennis

    Right out of the gate they poke Reid in the eye.

    When will democrats learn that they can't negotiate with republicans in good faith?

    February 14, 2013 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  13. What a farce

    The pretenders need to be isolated from the media, then they might get to work. Lindsey Graham needs to be outed.

    February 14, 2013 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  14. gsgofer

    Whatever happened to rule by majority?

    February 14, 2013 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  15. remoter

    So what else is new??? The old ladies of the Senate headed up by McCain really need to go.

    February 14, 2013 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  16. twalk

    This is not news anymore. This is normal for the GOP. Nothing is going to change with the GOP.

    February 14, 2013 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  17. Citizen

    While our DO NOTHING congress takes their pay but produces no results, the American tax payer is still stuck footing the bill! In no other industry can an employee be so irresponsible and ineffective and still keep their job nonetheless get payed. Fiscal responsibility starts with the individual tax payer. It's time to get rid of these cronies and hire people who WANT to work.

    February 14, 2013 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  18. DB

    If this was a business all these guys should be fired.

    February 14, 2013 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  19. Sandra

    Once again the House Republicans abuse the filibuster in a case of pure obstructionism. They're manufacturing reasons (even I knew when he was talking about Israel, and he said "Jewish Lobby" he meant Israeli Lobby, who funnily enough are Jewish) why they oppose him. When you have a tea-tard chicken hawk, Sen Cruz slander him by saying he takes money from terrorists, and only one or two sitting GOP senators have the balls to actually defend Hagel from the slander, you know the only reason they're blocking him is because President Obama wants him.

    Wish the House was 'right to work' because I'd fire the lot of them.

    February 14, 2013 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  20. AM

    Let's see... Yes! Let's look deep in the closets of everyone of our congress members financial closets... Oh! Scared about that idea, but beat a good man up over his. You Repubs just keep on weeping and thrashing around like immature children. I won't. I won't. I won't. You better let me do what I want. (throws self on floor, and screams and pounds fist in a tantrum) Grow up GOP. The President appoints cabinet members and your obstructionism is getting old. We The People, Spoke. Now get your finances all out in the public...

    February 14, 2013 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  21. Peter Grenader

    Figure out what Senators make a year (from their salaries). Once you have that number. divide it down first by 12, and that by 20. then once again by 8. That's what they a make per hour. Multiply that by the number of senators in the chamber today times the number or fractions of hours they spend on this vote, add let's say 25% for the support personnel.

    That's what this US tax dollar paid dog and pony accomplished, nothing more. Not as much as a 150 million dollar Monica Lewinsky you know what... but give them time. Anyone want to place bets on how many few minutes pass until we hear on of them spews the 'party of fiscal responsibility' talking point?

    February 14, 2013 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  22. Robyn

    Republicans in Congress have no agenda
    except to damage America as much as
    they possibly can and then scream,
    "Look at what Obama did ! ! !"

    This is madness.

    February 14, 2013 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  23. tomntucson

    They must be really proud to have avoided doing any work for the country before taking yet another vacation.

    February 14, 2013 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  24. Publius

    This is indeed a sad day for our republic. The Republican party can't win, so they use pathetic tactics against one of their own. A memo needs sent to Senator Graham et al. YOU LOST. You lost the presidential election, the senate, and if not for gerrymandering, they would have lost the House as well. Democratic candidates out polled GOP ones for House seats, but district lines in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania have been so gerrymandered, it did not matter. The GOP loses, loses, loses, and to pout they block the nomination of an honorable man like Hagel. What a sad pathetic bunch of fanatics.

    February 14, 2013 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  25. RamboJohnJ

    So in other words, just another day in the GOP.

    February 14, 2013 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
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