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. wyl5326

    I love Orin's vote of Present as a payback to Emperor Barack's repeated Present votes on controversial issues ! I hope Barack will learn some lesson for his past actions and examine his own soul instead of behaving like he was a god !

    February 14, 2013 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  2. Matthew

    I won't vote yes until Mr. Hagel says the "surge" was the greatest military achievement of all time. Waaaaaa. -some fmr. maverick

    February 14, 2013 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  3. Kenneth

    Okay instead of working on the ECONOMY these MORONS are debating a nomination that has NEVER in HISTORY been debated!!!! How much money had been wasted over the past week with this NONSENSE??? Are they seriously getting paid for this? Do these people really earn more money than teachers? They don't want to raise the minimum wage but "choose" to throw away more money in ONE week than a minimum wage earner attains in ONE YEAR!!These are ELECTED officials behaving like kindergarten children! Un-Friggin-BELIEVABLE!!!

    February 14, 2013 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  4. nvmature

    The party of No. The party of obstructionism. They can't get over losing the election...again. Still trying to derail anything this president wants. A bunch of losers.

    February 14, 2013 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  5. sparky

    Filibuster reform now. They lost the Senate, and they lost the presidential election. What they're doing is anti-democratic.

    February 14, 2013 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  6. Cinman

    Vindictiveness and pettiness knows no bounds. The Repubs will remain in a petulant frenzy for sometime to come.

    February 14, 2013 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  7. Cam Spurgeon

    I am already looking forward to 2014 so some of these wackos can go. I am rooting for whoever runs against Graham even if the person is just as wacko. These two buddies are over the edge. UGH!

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

    I only wish The GOP would have demanded with the same standards to the Bush administration about 9/11, where almost three thousand americans died not in the middle east but right here in our home

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

    end the GOP

    February 14, 2013 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  10. scott salmons

    Good job republicans!

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

    this guy doesn't think as similar as the other defense secretaries before. could it possibly be this happened because this is just the way congress is set up to work? Maybe they're just not sure about the candidate?

    February 14, 2013 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  12. Randy

    I'm with the GOP that he doesn't seem that great of a choice, but I don't think a filibuster was appropriate

    February 14, 2013 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  13. Nancy Stagner

    The Republicans have become a disgrace to democracy in our country. This is nothing but politics on their part and I, for one, think they have just completed the destruction of a party that I voted for for 40 years. I just don't know how far they will sink before they reach the slime part of the pond – but they are rapidly getting there.

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

    Seems to me the Republicans have forgotten that we expect them to work for their six figure incomes. May we should bust them down to 50K a year and see if they can live on that! Jerks!

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

    History will be unkind to the Republicans of the last 4 years.

    February 14, 2013 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  16. What a Shame

    Like Warren Buffett I started out a republican in recent years I have been shifting left. This situation is only pushing me further away from the current republican party.

    February 14, 2013 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  17. Kathryn Harlan

    Who or what moron trust any one in Washington???Obama..The Congress... they all lie!!

    February 14, 2013 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  18. Grace

    <> .... it went out the door when the NRA took over..

    February 14, 2013 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  19. Grumpster

    It is time to get these jackhole republicans out of office.

    February 14, 2013 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  20. TheZel

    Why don't you end these filibusters with cloture?? Great we have no secretary of defense. The President should bypass the senate for reasons of national security

    February 14, 2013 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  21. volsocal

    Can't defend this one (and a lot of others, like raising the debt ceiling without spending cuts). To the victor goes the spoils. Obama should have the cabinet he wants unless there is somethin really wrong with the guy. That is not the case here. This is an example of why we call ourselves "conservatives", not "Republicans."

    February 14, 2013 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  22. californiaac

    Whatever ir takes to manufacture a CRISIS. Senator CRUZ goes as far as to imply Hagel is a IRANIAN PLANT: stinks like McCarthyism. The GOP senators coming up for re-election are playing to to TEA-PARTY to show they are to the right of the GOP right. The solution will be clear in the 2014 mid-term elections: GET THE BUMS OUT! "We the people" are wise to you REPUGNANTS...loyalty to self preservation comes before loyalty to Country.

    February 14, 2013 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  23. J nieto

    It seems that the GOP didn't learn a thing in the last Presidential election, their obstructions have not gone unnoticed by the American voters, and in 2014 the voters will have another say about their incompetent governance. Petty politics is not winning anyone in the center, they have achieved absolutely nothing with brinkmanship. When will they learn????

    February 14, 2013 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  24. CA Independent

    D

    Epic. Obstructionism.

    Stay classy, GOP!

    -

    So, the Obama administration refusing to be transparent is not being an obstructionist? Such a double standard!

    February 14, 2013 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  25. nikolas ocampo

    he did not pass the interview. next candidate please.

    February 14, 2013 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
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