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. Independent by choice

    A filibuster by definition is an action that obstructs progress. Depending on which dictionary you use, it could just mean a delay or a prevention. Either way, a filibuster is not a solution by any means. It can only stop us from solving a problem. A filibuster in itself is incapable of solving anything. Since the idea of filibustering came around in legislative bodies, it has been used numerous times, but never once has it done anything except delays. In todays recovering economy, the last thing we need in congress is politicians who have lost perspective. I believe the reason why so many Americans are fed up with congress is because they no longer realize that the only thing worse than not solving the problem the way their party wants to is NOT SOLVING IT AT ALL.

    February 14, 2013 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  2. Lct1119

    Typo... 'The repubs' not the 'refund' .... Although that might fit as well,

    February 14, 2013 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  3. USSense

    I guess; Chuk Hagle earned it. He need to be taught a lesson going against Jewish lobby. Let's make an example out of this for others.

    February 14, 2013 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  4. Kathryn Harlan

    Republicans and Democrats in Congress and the White House should join match.com... Their BS jockeying for power and lies makes me want to throw up!

    February 14, 2013 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  5. Tony

    The GOP continues on its path to extinction. Wow. It is truly amazing to watch.

    February 14, 2013 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  6. Sebastian

    Thanks to Harry Read Filibuster Reform failed. So Democrats: live with it!

    February 14, 2013 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  7. headlessthompsongunner

    GOP Mindset:
    "We don't have to change the fact that we're the Party-of-No, we just need to tweek our message so that hispanics and women see the value in candidates who whine and offer nothing".

    February 14, 2013 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  8. Ragin Cajun

    What? Senators posturing and grand standing? Unimaginable!

    Okay, I'm really trying hard to remove the smirk off my face. Really I am.

    February 14, 2013 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  9. Rachel

    First of all, thank you God. Ok. So, I've read through the comments and most of you support this nomination of Chuck Hagel. Can any of you tell me why he would make such a great Defense Secretary? Do you really know anything about him? Please enlighten me. As far as I have read, I certainly do not want him to be sworn in. He is the complete opposite of Leon Panetta.

    February 14, 2013 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  10. yem

    What's up with J. McCain? He so mad at Hagel because he disagreed with him about "the surge" in Iraq ? It is unbelievable. McCain, please let go with Hagel. He a vietnam veteran like yourself and a friend of yours. You have even picked S. Palin as your V.P. for the USA. This is your second huge mistake of judgement. Your reputation is at stake or do you care at all. Why do you guys delay the votes he needs ? Did you forget that the country is at war?

    February 14, 2013 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  11. bear

    McCain will not vote for Hagel but chose Palin for a running mate. He has the I.Q. of an oyster, which is insulting to Mollusks.

    February 14, 2013 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  12. OdysseusV

    It's the fault of the southern states voters that have first gone along with slavery, separate but equal(basically Aparteid) and the party of no. All to spite an African-American president who has done more for the poor people of the south by getting them affordable health-care! They would rather keep the racist mentality even if it cuts off their nose to spite their face. How sad!! States rights is one thing but obstructing everything the duly elected leader of the majority of the citizenry for the sake of party is shameful at best.

    February 14, 2013 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  13. QOTU

    This is the worst congress I can remember and I go back a ways. The Republicans should be hanging their heads in shame. How can they allow a group within their own party to do this to the GOP? Tea party members should be facing a recall or at a minimum, should be voted out of office in the next election, I'm afraid however, that the republican party will be unable to return from this.

    February 14, 2013 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  14. Contender

    Time for Hagel to do the right thing and withdraw. The President needs to nominate someone capable and qualified to handle the job at hand.

    February 14, 2013 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  15. Name Csrl

    The senate Republicans are horrible. Now i see why everyone is calling the Gop the STUPID PARTY....

    February 14, 2013 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  16. Tim

    Dennis, it's pretty hilarious to see the words "Democrats" and "good faith" in the same sentence. Harry Reid in particular has never shown "good faith" in across-the-aisle dealings. And how quickly all of you crying "Party of No" forget Chuck Schumer's classic "Yes, we are blocking judges by filibuster. That is part of the hallowed process around here." (He cast 26 votes to filibuster Bush nominees.)

    February 14, 2013 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  17. dave

    the new battle cry for the next election is going to be "do you want Government by filibuster or Government by the vote?" the republicans are bent on destroying their party with this kind of BS. i hope they keep it up for 2 years until the voters get even more of a chance to correct this problem for years than in the last election. even if your a lifelong republican you know this is wrong. get on the net or phone and fix your dying party before its to late.

    February 14, 2013 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  18. Thomas

    Donald Henry Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense under George Bush from 2001 January 20 to 2006 December 18.

    Thank you GOP for helping me remember .

    February 14, 2013 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  19. samuel

    is there any other proof that our government is broken? china takes swift decisions russia takes swift decisions and WE are about to shut down our government continuously. .. what is majority rule our system is geared for immobilism.

    February 14, 2013 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  20. Mark

    Disgusting. Seems those in Washington learned absolutely nothing from this last election. Extremists on both sides need to be kicked out of office, and replaced with people who understand compromise and working together for a common good. This level of partisanship is sickening.

    February 14, 2013 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  21. chill485

    This is just childish, and on McCain's part, you can see the value of his word.

    February 14, 2013 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  22. mike0404

    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.
    So explain to me McCain's logic on this. I cannot imagine anyone in Arizona, who is following his behavior, being justified in voting for this man. If he were eight and acting like this in school, his parents would be asked to fetch him at the principal's office.

    February 14, 2013 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  23. tms5510

    Another proof of how Israel owns the US

    February 14, 2013 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  24. Anonymous

    Hagel's performance at his senate hearings was terrible. Is this the best candidate for the job? Good grief, watch his poise and ability to answer questions and ask yourself if you really want this man in a position of leadership?

    February 14, 2013 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  25. Steve S

    Too bad Obama can't send half the House and Senate down to Gitmo, as 'terror' subjects

    February 14, 2013 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
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