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. Dave

    Republicans will block even one of their own!

    They are partisan to the point where it is almost treasonous. The job Hagel would fill is too important for our national security to be held up by games.

    Republicans are going to pay a price in votes for this latest stunt. It is a major mistake.

    February 14, 2013 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  2. Zandigra

    While I don't care for Obama and consider him to be an utter disaster as President, I do have a lot of respect for Senator Hagel and am very disappointed by this action. Though it appears that Hagel will ultimately be confirmed by the Senate after the recess, which is a good thing.

    February 14, 2013 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  3. eciam

    The GOP doing what they do best, saying NO! There Spanish Prince to the rescue LOL!

    February 14, 2013 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  4. Jewelgirl

    I am so sick of the Republicans and Democrats acting like they are in a civil war...it's the American people who lose...I wish we could fire them all...with their life time benefits included

    February 14, 2013 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  5. Anastasia Beaverhausen

    If GOP obstructionism is really bothering you, then prove it at the next election. Stop voting for Republicans so we can unstall the government and get things done.

    February 14, 2013 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  6. Perplexed

    So what's your next step Harry Reid?

    February 14, 2013 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  7. bombastus

    There is one rule in the GOP: if Obama is for it, they are against it. The filibuster is killing democracy in this country. This has got to stop.

    February 14, 2013 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  8. Ricke1949

    Keery a liberal democrat passed with no problem. Hagel, a Republican, was blocked. One would be naive to think that this was about party and not issues.

    February 14, 2013 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  9. liars

    The Obama anti-gay , anti Israel juggernault comes to a screeching halt.

    February 14, 2013 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  10. Cam Spurgeon

    2014/2016...get ready. These people are a bunch of lemmings as McCain called the house one time. Now he is leading the lemmings in an attempt to bolster up his loser mentality. He lost to Bush, Obama and again with Romney. He and his wacko friend have been trying to get even ever since. Oh well we shall see. I am sure there are others that will decide this lemming walk isn't where they want to be.Maybe..

    February 14, 2013 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  11. JReeder

    Gee,......a Republication filibuster, who would have thought. You have that spineless pigeon Harry Reid to thank for this one!

    February 14, 2013 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  12. Kent

    I am very disappointed in John McCain, a man I used to admire. If you think about it, except for his years as a POW, this man has been babied beyond the imagination of most Americans every single day of his life and it is starting to show.

    February 14, 2013 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  13. Wayland Yan

    Hagel is a Republican!!! Can you imagine if Mr. Hagel were a Democratic or a minority? The GOP is just astoundingly
    frustrating.

    February 14, 2013 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  14. glorydays

    I'm really starting to despise our politicians.

    February 14, 2013 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  15. B4Cons

    Prior to 1970 the Senate averaged ONE Filibuster PER YEAR.
    In the last 3 years the Average is ONE PER DAY – that they're in session –

    The GRAND OBSTRUCTIONIST PARTY!!!

    February 14, 2013 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  16. BSKB

    Can't wait to hear cries of obstructionism! from the same people who cheered when Ambassador John Bolton was blocked.

    February 14, 2013 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  17. aspgard

    Sad partisan politics.

    February 14, 2013 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  18. what's up

    Hagel, in his confirmation hearing, was nothing more than a clueless clown, who couldn't remember what he did yesterday. But hey, this is the type of person Obama likes.

    February 14, 2013 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
  19. JustAO

    Block block block...no no no...filibuster filibuster filibuster...lose lose lose presidential elections.

    February 14, 2013 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
  20. longshot

    Every time you think the GOP can't get any worse, they push it even farther.

    If the GOP wanted to make themselves hated and irrelevant, they're doing all the right things. They will be completely gone in 20 years.

    February 14, 2013 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  21. Sam

    The Republicans are holding this nation hostage again. Blocking an important nominate. Republicans continue to use the filibuster to block bills and nominates. They continue to block anything Obama needs to get done. This is your Republicans that think they run the nation. Many are old, senile and should be defeated. McCain, Graham, McConnell , Ayotte. All need to be defeated their next election. We need intelligent senators, not old and outdated thinking ones.

    February 14, 2013 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  22. Al

    McConnell made a deal with Harry Reid, and they shook on it. within weeks, McConnell stabbed Reid in the back. McConnell is not an honorable man. He should not be trusted.

    February 14, 2013 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  23. Senator T. Roll

    U mad democrats?

    February 14, 2013 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  24. rc roeder

    I wish the members of congress would vote in what they believe, what the people that represent believe in, not what their party leaders tell them to do, not what the lobbyist that own them tell them what to do. Standup and be counted for being a good congress person. I have high hope but i doubt that congress will rise above the stagnate pond they play in.

    February 14, 2013 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  25. VOTE OCCUPY WALLSTREET & SAVE AMERICA

    This quote right here cracks me up.

    "opposition surrounding questions about Hagel's finances."

    Seriously, if that's their opposition to him, then almost everyone in congress needs to turn in their letter of resignation right now.

    February 14, 2013 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
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