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. g

    i think republicans want a military state–the patriot act and home land security is in the right direction

    February 14, 2013 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  2. 9thAmendment

    Traitors. So N. Korea launches a nuke and there's no defense secratary. The repub suuik

    February 14, 2013 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  3. RINO Bill

    This vote shows just what the GOP thinks of this country and of its people. Bet if a Republican president had nominated Hagel, he would have sailed through the process with no issue. Hell, Hagel is one of their own and the Republicans are willing to throw him under the bus just to humiliate Obama.

    What a bunch of low lifes.

    February 14, 2013 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  4. Sagebrush Shorty

    Best news today.

    February 14, 2013 09:11 pm at 9:11 pm |
  5. jkane sfl the gop national disgrace party will be swept out like the trash they are in2014 ?

    The gop trash needs to be kick out of Washington for good in the 2014 mid terms and forget about the white house in this century and your water baby
    Rubio
    is a failure like the rest of the gop trash !!!!!

    February 14, 2013 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  6. beancounterz

    This is a message from the GOP that they don't want a champion of the defense department in the Obama administration and that they want all budget cuts to eliminate the budget deficit to come from the defense department. Since the defense department will not have a representative in this administration, we must pull our troops out of afghanistan immediately as well as considering removing all troops and fleets from any overseas operations.

    February 14, 2013 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  7. norma jean

    There was supossed to be a "gentlemens agreement' for the Democrats with the Republicans on the use of the Filibuster.....WELL....The Democrats just learned that you don't shake hands with the Repubs if you value all of your fingers.....The Repubs lack a little thing like honor.......They ,as usual are holding up progress of our country with the rest of the world......but what do they care....?They lack all the characteriistics to make a party work and every day they get worse!!!!!!

    February 14, 2013 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  8. Joe Clark

    The Republican party seems bent upon destroying itself as a viable political party and out of the ashes possibly a new party will hopefully be reborn minus all the ugly partisanship it was burdened with.

    February 14, 2013 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  9. Jay

    What a waste of tax payers money...with 51 minimum votes after the short recess Hagel is definetly going to be confirmed again. GOP you guys should grow up rather than really wasting tax payers money running congress with all trivial unwanted things, fight for the big items and leave the small things to kids to play.

    February 14, 2013 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  10. K from AZ

    GOOD! Now stop Brennan!

    February 14, 2013 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  11. Bob

    GOP, there you go again.The masters of obstructionism are back at work, but we will remember in the voting booths next time, again.

    February 14, 2013 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  12. newmuch

    Well, well, well. The Republicans have finally accomplished something! But is it something for them to be proud of or ashamed?
    If Sarah Palin were the nominee there can be no question that these dummies would have all voted in favor, because they all supported her to be POTUS as McCain's vice presidential nominee. Because she could see Russia from her house. With that record these Republican Senators do not seem to have any credibility to oppose ANYONE for ANYTHING. Particularly one of their own former Republican Senators.

    February 14, 2013 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  13. Mike

    Is Obama smart of what? He said to himself by nominating Hagel I either get my guy OR I make the other guy look like absolute jerk. It worked like a charm. He can now appoint Wesley Clark and make it 2 – 0.

    February 14, 2013 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  14. FlotsamJetsam

    I am a Republican but disgusted what has become with my party. Just another in a string of examples of putting their political ambitions ahead of the people's business. First punting on the fiscal cliff and kicking it down the road for another 3 months. No action on the Sequestration which they are now disingenuously blaming on Obama and we will default, lose more credit ratings and now other states and counties will suffer for their credit ratings as a result. and Now filibustering a Defense Secretary. This is outrageous!

    We literally spent the last year with the economy stumbling along while they stood on the sidelines cheering on any bit of bad news while some Americans were suffering. The Republicans selected a bozo for Presidential candidate who was never going to win and now they just want to be obstructionists!!!! Get rid of them!

    February 14, 2013 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  15. Alex

    JohnRJohnson said it RIGHT

    February 14, 2013 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  16. David in Tampa

    Keep voting for the pubs. They are extremely wealthy and they represent wealth. They could care less what the USA is doing tonight.

    February 14, 2013 09:19 pm at 9:19 pm |
  17. Jewels

    Call it what you will but, I see it as blatant destruction. The questioning of Hagel by McCain was confrontational and grand-standing. All while when asked years back he said he'd hire Hagel for any part of his administration - he had such high respect for him. I think it's ridiculous and a game that the GOP continue to pkay. In listening to Hagel respond (when McCain finally allowed him to), the guy had respectable input on his take of Iraq and how he'd handle International relations/clashes. Just because he's more moderate and willing to work with the Dems., he's getting burned by some of his so-called friends....Pathetic...

    February 14, 2013 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  18. Jewels

    obstruction, I meant. :)

    February 14, 2013 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  19. Clwyd

    Republicans continue to do the only thing they seem to do well, Obstruct! Disgusting people and party!

    February 14, 2013 09:24 pm at 9:24 pm |
  20. Just because????

    Seriously how can they justify this one? War veteran, republican, and experienced. What more do they want?

    February 14, 2013 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  21. BelladonnaCove

    Might as well just concede all power to Obama.

    February 14, 2013 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  22. AK_steve

    The GOP is the MOST DIVISIVE political party EVER! They are a bunch of cowards who blame everything on the president and hide behind the filibuster to do their dirty work.

    They are shameless.

    February 14, 2013 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  23. RamboJohnJ

    Business as usual in DC!

    February 14, 2013 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  24. Derek

    Chuck Hagel, a fellow republican, is being abandoned by his country for his common sense during the Iraq War and because he was nominated by Obama. I don't understand common republicans these days, the two reasons why they are blocking this nomination are because it was Obama's idea and it's one of the few things they still have power over. That's it, they're just trying to be heard. I wish they had some intelligence backing up their statements though.

    February 14, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  25. Craig from Pa.

    Most of these clowns will be voted out...the people aren't as stupid as they think....Gee I wish they would have nominated McCain...that would have been an interesting vetting...

    February 14, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
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