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. Thinks2010

    SOP for the GOP obstructionists. They obviously missed the point of Bobby Jindal's speech bout not being the stupid party any more. Their continued abuse of the filibuster made the last Congress a do-nothing Congress despised by the people of this country. Well, they are at it again so we can expect nothing out of this Congress as well. It is time for filibuster reform that returns the speaking filibuster to Congress. If you do not understand the difference between today's filibuster rules and the speaking filibuster that served this country well, check out the recent Bill Moyers show regarding the filibuster. You'll be surprised by how phony the current rules are.

    February 14, 2013 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  2. NinetyNinePercent

    Republicans in congress are incorrigible. When they publicly backstab ONE OF THEIR OWN, what do you think they'll do to you? I bet Hagel is starting to really question his party affiliation now...

    February 14, 2013 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  3. marjee123

    I think it is time that these republicans who are slandering Hagel with made up crap are called out. You have to prove the things they are saying about him. Look at the Fox news commenator who has his own website. He is saying that Hagel was a member of a Iran group that does not exist and never existed. I'd sue and go for all the money I can get and drive them out of business. they have no right to make up stuff and then pretend to the public it is true. The problem no one has gone after them and they think they are above the law. And the only reason McCain is still leading this charge is for down right spite. He is spiteful because - first President Obama beat him for the presidency and second he is spiteful because Hagel supported President Obama over him, McCain for the president . These type of people do not belong in congress. This country is supposed to come first and these old men old old old are just a bunch of spiteful craps because they want to undermine the President.

    February 14, 2013 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  4. Siamese Triplets

    Reid blew it when he didn't get rid of the silent filibuster.

    February 14, 2013 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  5. Wazzup

    The Partyu of No is alive and well. It's time to say no to them in 2014

    February 14, 2013 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  6. Marcus

    Good job. Keep this incompetent far, far away from defense. What a joke he is, "So, what is the policy on Iran's Nukes, Mr Hagel?" "Containment" – even the dem leaders had to straighten him out – uhh, no, that would be "No Nukes". Obama's yes man should be shown the door – he's clueless.

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

    Harry "The Cadaver" Reid is foiled again. I love it. "Democrats fail" headline reads. That's music to my ears.

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

    The GOP is continuing to embarrass themselves... but this time, they are hurting more than just O and the Dems, this is awkward for the country as a whole. They really will stop at nothing to block anything that comes out of the Dem's mouths, regardless of consequences.

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

    why would it be shocking that the gop is questioning obama's moves at this point. we're in the process of trying to "avert" bills that he put into legislation 2 years ago. he's made enough financial mistakes for our country in the previous 4 years that the party that opposes him is now completely unwilling to trust his decision making.

    it would be incompetent for the GOP not to play hardball with every move made by the white house at this point, period. it would be incompetent for democrat voters to expect them not to, period. don't be incompetent.

    February 14, 2013 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  10. Mary R.

    We are owned by Israel. They don't want Hagel.

    February 14, 2013 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  11. David G

    John McCain is a hypocrite as well as the as the other "Simon said" GOP members. Did Mitch McDonnell forget is what is said in 2005 about President's nominees.
    This is crap.
    Ted Cruz R-Tex have you forgotten Lies about reasons for the Iraq invasion. John M have you forgot how you ready to infect the nation with the virus known as Sarah Palin.

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

    Another nail in the GOP's coffin. If they keep up this nonsense, Republicans will be lucky to elected to dog catcher.

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

    poor Rep, what a joke, Cruz what a joke

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

    More useless posturing by the useless GOP. Obama needs to kick some GOP butt.

    February 14, 2013 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  15. gahh

    Hagel cameout against Bush's Iraq war. This made him an enemy of the holier than thou, Republicans.

    February 14, 2013 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  16. Githm

    This is why the GOP lost the last two elections. They will lose the next election too. They are simply out of touch. It's becoming very sad to watch.

    February 14, 2013 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  17. Marty, FL

    GOP senators filibustering Sec. Of Defense for the first time in US history, compromising our national security in the process.

    Disgusting.

    February 14, 2013 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  18. 1deevamom

    Lindsey Graham needs to go back to South Carolina and sit under a tree, John mcCain needs to go wherever and the female Ayote needs to get a life. Republicans are being obstructionists they need to realize they LOST THE ELECTION!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GET OVER IT. Never before has a President been denied a cabinet appointment. The GOP sucks.

    February 14, 2013 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  19. zeb

    While the GOP has behaved atrociously, I have to apportion blame to Reid. He had the chance to fix the filibuster rule, and he caved – thinking more about what would happen if the GOP got the majority, instead of doing the right thing by the people.

    February 14, 2013 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  20. tarura

    And finally . . . the good news.

    Thank you, GOP.

    February 14, 2013 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  21. Peter Clarke

    Obstructionist politics as usual, when will we learn that their are very few true statesman in our congress and nothing on their minds except the next election. Dumb us!

    February 14, 2013 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  22. Lynett

    They have no respect for the president. They continue to push people away -

    February 14, 2013 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  23. Ed

    Let me get this straight.... A Democratic president nominates a former Republican senator, but the nomination is shot down by Republicans..... If this was going to be such a fight, he could have just nominated a Democrat like Sam Nunn.....

    February 14, 2013 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  24. john Smith

    If you want to be nominated don't make the mistake to tell the truth especially about the jewish lobby!

    February 14, 2013 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  25. Bill Richardson

    Well, I guess its time for obama to start whining about the Republicans not playing fair again!

    February 14, 2013 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
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