February 14th, 2013
11:28 AM ET
1 year 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. Oblamo

    Hagel has said many degrating anti Isreal comments and has questionable support towards questionable islamic terror groups. Why do people question them wanting more info?

    February 14, 2013 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  2. Skarphace

    Another Republican fillibuster? Forgive me if I am not surprised.

    February 14, 2013 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  3. Commojoe

    Good! Glad to see the GOP sticking to its principles and blocking this goof! Keep it up; treat Bozobama EXACTLY the way HE treated you!

    February 14, 2013 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  4. g

    might as well get someboby from Isreal to run the show- they run the show anyhow

    February 14, 2013 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  5. eleanor

    I think the Tea Party should be named as a terrorist group. Clearly in their quest to destroy government, they are political anarchists. Nothing positive has come forth from them since they took over Congress under the stealthy leadership of their kingpin, Grover Norquist.

    February 14, 2013 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  6. Dave R.

    To quote most of PAPA's comments;
    "Typical. If Obama nominated" Jesus Christ " the GOP would object. That's what has been wrong with this country for the past 4 years. Obstruction by the GOP. They don't care if it is one of their own. Turn on 'em like a pack of wolves. It's time the Republican party was voted out of office once and for all."

    February 14, 2013 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  7. Morvin

    Republicans – Never have so few done so little and made so much while scr€wing so many.

    February 14, 2013 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  8. lee

    So our country is without a Secretary of Defense while Congress takes a ten day recess? The term just started and they go home while our enemies sense a whole in our Department of Defense? What happens if were attacked during this time when we don't have a cabinet level Secretary of Defense? While the Republicans are playing games with politics they have just put us in a dangerous position. This is absolutely outrageous behavior. All to punish Chuck Hagel who is a bonafide war hero and a man who tells it like it is. Shameful.

    February 14, 2013 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  9. annieL

    Get Sarah Palin on the phone, President Obama. If McCain and the GOP thought she was qualified to be president and commander-in-chief, they can't oppose her as Secretary of Defense. Would love to see them justify voting against HER! LOL

    February 14, 2013 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  10. Victor

    So Harry Reid, care to explain why filibuster reform was a bad idea 3 months ago?

    February 14, 2013 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  11. TomNPitt

    Boy, ya' think Harry Reed feels stupid now??
    They have a new system that will make things move smoother in the senate. We don't have to worry about any filibusters!

    February 14, 2013 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  12. Marsh hen

    Meanwhile.... And of course you won't see this on CNN...
    Pelosi thinks pay cuts for congress undermines dignity of the job.

    February 14, 2013 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  13. TomNPitt

    Just can't get anything to go through. The messge cycle is being tightly controlled!!
    No reason to go to the summit if we don't have a legitimate representative there to represent us.
    It's not really that important, is it??

    February 14, 2013 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  14. Justin

    So they will vote for him after recess but are fillibustering him today?? Sounds like a naked display of the GOP (with fewer votes) telling theDEMs(with more votes) that they have all the power. Why do we allow our elected officials to stop anything from coming up to a vote? Even if you need a super-majority it should still come to a vote.

    February 14, 2013 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  15. mondude

    If you can't govern then stop every thing. Who cares If we look like fools.

    February 14, 2013 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  16. John

    It's true! Republicans eat their own!

    February 14, 2013 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  17. TheTraveler

    Mid-term elections are coming up. All that needs to be done is remove a few of these self serving GOP jerks from office. We should start with McCain and Graham ...

    February 14, 2013 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  18. Bob

    Reid always has the "nuclear" option. The GOP went back on their handshake deal (did anyone expect them not to), so Reid has it in his powers to get rid of the filibuster once and for all. He should do it. There is no downside and the American people (who are just as sick of the GOP with their 11% rating) as the rest of Congress. The Party of No is doubling down on their anti-science, pro-Birther, pro-assault rifle, anti-history, pro-Oil, anti-teacher, pro-Big Business, anti-middle class, anti-environment agenda. Let them.

    February 14, 2013 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  19. Vu

    GOP is dead wrong on this. Hagel is the best man for the job, because the President with highest rating in the history TRUST him.

    February 14, 2013 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  20. rs1201

    Obama's State of the Union speech sent a very clear belligerent message to all conservatives and republicans. He intends to continue spending and taxing with absolutely no restraint. He fully intends to put this country in the toilet. I can only imagine what would happen if he had a democratic Congress...we'd be a third world country in no time.
    Obama and democrats are all about BIG government and BIG spending...that's got to stop...we're broke!!!!

    February 14, 2013 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  21. Kay Es.

    John McCain and Senator Graham and their new-found puppy dog Kelly should be ashamed of themselves. I would like to send e-mails to NBC, CBS, and ABC Presidents to stop these highly partisan folks to constantly appear on their networks. It's time that these ever-so-partisan, self proclaimed "leaders" be neutered. They are making mockery of their positions. The country deserves better.

    February 14, 2013 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  22. TruDat

    Great! He's a lousy choice and should never have even been nominated. Thanks to the Seante for rejecting Mr. Hagel. His testimony was horrible and he was revealed to be almost totally clueless. Our armed forces and citizens deserve a better Sec. of Defense. Maybe the Prez will come up with a more qualified nominee next time.

    February 14, 2013 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  23. Steve Allard

    As a GOP supporter I'm getting frustrated with the Rebuplican leaders saying "look at us, we want to lose in 2014, 2016, etc." ... come on guys ... try to play a smarter game!

    February 14, 2013 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  24. Paul

    If there had been meaningful filibuster reform when the Senate had had a chance then this nonsense wouldn't have happened. Harry Reid's cowardice has come back to haunt him – cowardice has consequences.

    February 14, 2013 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  25. Kita

    I'm pretty sure if the parties were reversed here the GOP would be calling an obstruction of the Secretary of Defense's confirmation "treasonous" and "debilitating for the country's security" and doing everything they could to display the other guy as being uncaring about the best interests of the na- oh wait.

    February 14, 2013 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
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