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. madelefant

    the republican party is the American Taliban

    February 14, 2013 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  2. mom

    BO shouldn't even be president in the opinion of PLENTY of Americans. He should not be in a position to name ANYONE for ANY post. He should be fiddling around in the hinterlands of Kenya, making believe he actually knows what he's doing, and stay there til kingdom come. Better yet, I think it would be absolutely dandy if he and everyone that adores him were living on another planet altogether. He is the one person making everything worse that he touches.

    February 14, 2013 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  3. newcombrpt

    And they shall be forever known as the "faboulous four".

    February 14, 2013 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  4. Tom

    Republicans are determined to put America back in a handbag and take it to hell.

    February 14, 2013 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  5. 60minuteman

    Senate republicans block,
    Senate republicans block,
    Senate republicans block,
    Senate republicans block,
    Senate republicans block,
    Senate republicans block,
    Senate republicans block ....

    Nothing will change until the people change it.

    February 14, 2013 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  6. common sense

    hagel is an Iranian sympathizer, who apologizes on behalf of all the dead American soldiers, to their Iranian murderers. Anyone who supports hagel should be ashamed of themselves and move to another country like Iran or China. You may call the repubs the party of no, but i would say a fat NO as well regardless of party if someone wanted a terrorist sympathizer to be in charge of defense. These people are murderers and crooks and only the lowest riff raff would support them.... or simply uneducated pop media people such as is found on CNN. Race has nothing to do with it, and Obama has some serious issues to even pick this person out...... the incompetent president abandoned those in Benghazi, abandoned those injured at ft hood calling it work place violence, has missed 4 out of 5 budget deadlines, including this years which was due January, and is going golfing this weekend. He treats our economy like its a simple elementary school homework assignment. You people better wake up and stop living in la la land.

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

    It seems a given they will approve this nomination after Feb 26. So why did the GOP insist on this silliness? You guessed it, they cannot STAND watching Obama win. And that's it. It's not Hagel at all, he's an adequate choice. IN fact, they played into Obama's hands, because they continue to look divided and cannibalistic.

    February 14, 2013 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  8. Alan Hays

    The Party of No, the Party of Clueless, voting against one of its' own, a War Veteran at that, denying the American people the best man for the job because he was mean to Chimp and Cheney.
    I'm shocked, just shocked! bwahahahahaha!!

    February 14, 2013 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  9. American Thinker

    AIPAC won't allow anyone in position of Defense Secretary if they are not 100% committed to Israel.
    AIPAC runs America.

    February 14, 2013 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  10. Campenout

    I am so tired of being held hostage by this group of people.

    February 14, 2013 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  11. The Jimmy Leg

    D – it's called balance of power. Check into it.

    February 14, 2013 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  12. Pancho Villa

    We should do the same thing to Leon Panetta that the military does to our soldiers and marines.... extend his tour until a suitable replacement is found, vetted, and sworn in....

    Our country cannot be without a Sec of Defense, especially not while we're in a so-called war. How is that even remotely possible? What is Congress thinking? The transition must be quick and seamless, in order for our military to remain on track and focused on the objective.

    It's up to the President to carefully select his cabinet members, vette them and get them past the Congress. If the candidate is suitable, according to the President, the candidate should get a yea or nay vote from Congress. Either he is or isn't qualified. What does a filibuster mean? Maybe he'll be ready in a day or two.... depending on what concessions the WH is willing to make? Hogwash. I'm calling the GOP on this one....this is BS!

    February 14, 2013 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  13. jalek

    The GOP still doesn't trust veterans. Besides, Israel said no, and no GOP member will go against Israeli dictates.

    February 14, 2013 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  14. timz

    Who would have thought that a party already so bereft of integrity could sink to new lows right out of the gate like this? Impressive!

    February 14, 2013 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  15. Cohen

    Chuck Hagel comments about the Jewish lobby control of the US(which off course does not exist ha ha ha) is his downfall.

    February 14, 2013 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  16. MrHighMighty

    This is 100% Harry Reid's fault. These type of shenanigans were completely predictable and foreseeable based on the actions of the Republicans the last four years, and they will continue at least until 2015. Reid had a chance to restrict the filibuster last month, and instead he caved in to McConnell. Reid is the weakest Senate leader in U.S. history, and a disgrace to the true Democratic Party. Prepare for more of the same.

    February 14, 2013 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  17. jalek

    Let's go without a Sec of Defense. Just one more line item to slash from the defense budget.

    February 14, 2013 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  18. newcombrpt

    The four Reupilicans who broke ranks and voted with the Democrats shall forever be known as the fabulous four".

    February 14, 2013 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  19. Kimo

    After watching his performance at the senate hearings, how can anybody think Hagel is the man for the job? He showed an inability to work under pressure, was not prepared, and, didn't present himself worthy of leading our defense department. Is Hagel truly the best we candidate we can come up with?

    February 14, 2013 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  20. P

    Obstructionism and evil at it's height. Republicans, what will be your excuse besides racism, now? If you won't even vote your own fellow Republican with excellent credentials, Purple Hearts and dedicated service to this country, we can see the evil for what it is. I don't think either party is perfect, or right all of the time, but this group of Republican Senators has broken the mold on evil, and I would be ashamed to be in the same organization with them. Shameful!!!

    February 14, 2013 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  21. snoozie

    Oh, what a surprise (yawn). Oh well, the repubs are nothing if not predictable at this point.

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

    Democrats wanted to stop the filibuster and tried to pass a bill. Leader Reid stopped it and agreed with the Republicans that filibuster should go on. Reid shot himself in the floor this afternoon. The Republicans filibustered. Republicans will continue to block anything that comes up for a vote. Many are Senile, old and lost their way in the Senate. McCain is the worst of them. He is an angry old, senile man, who wants to be President, but doesn't have the brains to be a leader. The people told him that in November 2008. But he still wants the power. McCain and Graham are TRAITORs to the people of this nation.

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

    Harry Reid, you had the chance to reform the filibuster, thus avoiding this outcome. You chose not to. FAIL.

    February 14, 2013 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  24. Kapt Oomerikwa

    Israel doesn't control the perverts in the U.S. Congress. Nothing to see here folks just keep moving along.

    February 14, 2013 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  25. pkrbkr

    I agree with Clinton M.......much of this is racist.....they can't BELIEVE we elected a black president not once but TWICE! And if they can't win at the ballot box, they'll try to destroy and destruct in other ways. Let's get these bums out of office! The American people are with the president on so many issues....the Republicans are destroying any chance they have of gaining respect....and votes.....in the future!

    February 14, 2013 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
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