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. Jerrio

    The Republicans are not only the stupid party if they keep blocking everything they will not be re-elected for anything. Let's get rid of all those Rebpublican congressman and senators and vote in Democrats or Independents then this country can get something done for a change.

    February 14, 2013 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  2. charles bowen

    Thank God i left the Republican Party while they still had some credibility Obstructionist Republicans are out to destroy the Middle class and ensalve the poor .....Nothing for the poor and all for the Rich .....Shame on all of you Republicans ,Shame on You may your gods send you all to Hell where you Belong....Can't find a Republican with an IQ higher than their Body Temperature anymore....And to think i once thought McCain was a good fit for the top spot...His Choice of Palin Sure put an end to that.....Ignorance is the Bliss of Being a Republican...Good Rant feel much better..Thanks! Charles Bowen Solomon Stone

    February 14, 2013 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  3. Nodack

    And the BS continues. The President even picks a Republican and the Republicans block it. Obama could resurrect Reagan and pick him and Republicans would vote against him as long as it was Obama who nominated him.

    February 14, 2013 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  4. Angie

    I am absolutely certain that quite a lot of Republicans hate having a black president. All they seem to do is undermine and put the whole country at risk just so they can do the opposite of what Obama says. We the people have spoken, Obama is president again – HE is our leader – let us show some respect, and we wonder what is wrong with the USA today when we see our government officials acting like this. Shame on you all (and I am a republican.........)

    February 14, 2013 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  5. Dem Fail

    liberals have no business destroying the military(It has a clear mission and it is not the cancer of liberalism!!!!)

    February 14, 2013 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  6. Lone wolf

    I guess the "new" GOP just showed that they are really just the same old party of hate, anger and no.

    February 14, 2013 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  7. bull

    "Senate tradition dictates that the president has the prerogative to nominate whomever he chooses for Cabinet positions and that nominees should not be filibustered."

    Republicans set a dangerous precedent here. It's bad politics.

    February 14, 2013 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  8. T. Alvi

    Repulicans are nuts. They only side with who keep their pockets filled with greens for our country to go for another war.They are punishing this country and people of this country just because they can't digest Obama as president. They misses King Bush/Cheny era.

    February 14, 2013 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  9. Jemima Jones

    Shame on GOP, they are willing to destroy USA for their own interest.

    February 14, 2013 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  10. Susie Sunshine

    What complete arrogant ignorance. Bye bye GOP in 2014. U make the US look stupid militarily, weak and distracted with harmful egotistical games. Idiots

    February 14, 2013 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  11. busterrhymes

    Time for serious filibuster reform. Talking filibuster only. as a minimum. Nuclear option.

    February 14, 2013 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  12. jacksonian2012

    The Republicans have nothing else. They are about to get steamrolled. CNN should take a poll to see how many people believe there will be a Republican party in 10 years.

    February 14, 2013 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  13. SecrtSqurl

    Typical obstructionism, and another reason the Republican party is an endangered species.

    February 14, 2013 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  14. Lone wolf

    It is impossible to negotiate with people filled with nothing but hate and anger. The ultimate obstructionist in American History.

    February 14, 2013 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  15. Peter

    Obama nominates a Republican and the Republicans shoot him down.

    Huh?

    February 14, 2013 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  16. jim

    Obstructionists, unwillling to work with orcompromise with a black president. The biggoted , racist , tea party and the conservative republicas are a greater threat to my blue collar way of life than any known terrorist.

    They are so arogant they don't see America is getting sick of their obstructionist tactics. 2016 they will br denied the presidency, stay a minority in the Senate and lose huge ground in the house.

    Soon all the republicans will have are the millionaires and the southern and mid west bigots and religeous hypocrites

    February 14, 2013 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  17. Lucian

    Let em filibuster. Wait them out. Expose them for the fools they are. They will fold.

    February 14, 2013 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
  18. Kregsky

    Hagel hates America's exceptionalism and the Jewish State of Israel. Seriously, Obama nominating this guy is a slap in the face to all for which the flag stands, as one nation UNDER GOD!

    February 14, 2013 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
  19. Gary

    A sure way to gaurantee a Democrat President in 2016 and 2020 is to have President Obama endorse the Republican candidate.

    February 14, 2013 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
  20. Brian

    OK, just so that I am clear on this: The GOP, including the 1 month experienced Ted Cruz, feel that it is important to know where Hagel got his income, but felt it was not necessary for Mitt Romney to even disclose his income numbers ( let alone sources.)

    Do these people even listen to themselves?

    February 14, 2013 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  21. B.

    It is obvious that people like McCain are letting a personal and political vendetta get in the way of doing their job!

    Put McCain on the golf course and get him out of the obstruction business... Disgusting

    February 14, 2013 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  22. PoBoy

    What's amazing to me is that these Senators are going after one of their own's finances. They better be careful with that one, because that could lead to a slippery slope. Nearly all of their finances are suspect, especially McCain's.

    February 14, 2013 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  23. jerry

    Dems... you had the chance to address filibuster reform and you flubbed it. Welcome to another 4 years of obstructionism.

    February 14, 2013 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  24. karl

    Yet still there are so many who refuse to believe the AIPAC is the actual power behind all seats. Whether at the Presidency, the Senate or the Congress, whathever is not in the pocket of the Israeli government it is, necessarily, a doomed cause. The name "United States of Israel" would properly honor the actual state of things in the former USA.

    February 14, 2013 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  25. Kansas Slim

    This is just one more unit of negativity to add to the picture. I hope the Democrats remember to remind the GOP when they are next in power that what goes around comes around. Also, why doesn't the media call it like it is and name the GOP for what they are instead of always trying to make everything balanced. FOX doesn't worry about lying; why does the straight media worry about balance instead of truth?

    February 14, 2013 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
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