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. empresstrudy

    Personally I loathe and despise the man and think that given the chance he's a dangerous fool. But he's really nothing more than an Obama mouthpiece and it matters not one jot who's in any cabinet position in this administration. They're all messenger boys.

    February 14, 2013 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  2. Remmy

    for God sake, Obama is the president of UNITED STATES that is why he has secretaries in charge of embassies ,Hillary called Libya because she was in charge of state department NOT THE PRESIDENT!!
    He has to run the whole country not just Beghazi and I believe he was busy with other US issue that needed his attention and Secretary of state Hillary Clinton was doing her job !!
    so stop harrasing the president please , why do want next ? that he come and answer questions to the senate ?
    republican cant believe they lost until now , what a shame .

    February 14, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  3. freedom

    The letter is a joke – legal BS jargon – copied and pasted answers from the review board – no answers from the president. He's the one that needs to answer the questions. He thinks he's above the law – but he's not.

    February 14, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  4. maraidia

    Someone needs to tell the Republican faction of congress that Bush is no longer in power, and the people chose Obama. I think they believe it is their job, and right, to run the country until the next person they choose is in power.

    February 14, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  5. MeanOldMan

    Is the republican party even capable of rational thought anymore? Given the last 4 years I think not. They do not have the moral right to determine the newly elected presidents cabinet. Yes I know all about "Advise and Conset" but I also know that the American people by a clear majority elected this president and these clowns owe it to the American people to let him at a minimum appoint his own cabinet. This nonsense of filibustering his cabinet appointments is a slap in the face to the people of this country. The republican party has shown itself over and over again to not even give a single thought to anything except their own political ambitions. They want more info on Bengazi? That has nothing to do with Hagel at all. If anyone should have been questioned on that for an appointment it should have been Kerry who was taking over the State Department. They want income records going back further than 2 years? Really, from the party whos presidential candidate refused to divulge more than 2 years of financial data when running for the highest office in the land. This is nothing but the same nonsense we have seen since the 2008 elecion and shows that the republican party is no longer a party that can even be taken seriously. Reid should have squashed the filibuster when he had the chance. Make no mistake, if the republicans regain the control of the Senate that will be high on their to do list. The GOP clowns are destroying the very fabric of our democratic process on every level they get involved, from Washington to playing with election and voting rules to try to rig the system.

    February 14, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  6. Joe Smith

    Honestly, it sounds to me like the republicans have preconceived notions of what the answers to their questions are, and won't be satisfied until they get answers that confirm those preconceptions, whether they are correct or not. They're more interested in attacking the president than in accepting the truth.

    February 14, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  7. Mo

    Remmy – Yes, the POTUS was busy with other issues – preparing for his trip to Las Vegas to lie to Hispanics about how he cares about them and how Mitt Romney was the devil incarnate. We couldn't let the narrative that Al-Qaeda is alive and well ruin the PTUS smear campaign. Wake up.

    February 14, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  8. Phil in KC

    The president gets to choose his cabinet. Congress gets to advise. He should be approved unless it is deemed that he is unqualified for the position. Holding up the nomination of someone they don't like and then holding it hostage over a document unrelated to his candidacy is a bridge too far.

    February 14, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  9. DannyCali

    Let the OLD MAN cry.......so, we don't need you vote anyway Mr. McKill.

    February 14, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  10. Tony from Oakland, Ca.

    It's irrelevant who called who before or after an attack in a region where over 150 riots were occuring simualtaneously. This impossible GOP expectation does not amount to negligence. However, it hs been a failed GOP tool for retribution in retalliation of a losing election in 2012 wherein Republicans just couldn't convince America they understood our National Security/Foreign Policy. And the expectation, by the GOP, an administration would be negligent with US security by not pre-guessing which of the 150 riots would turn into an attack before the attack amounts to no mis-doing by the administration. In light of GOP votes against funding the State Department before Benghazi, Republicans continue looking like Fools with an "ax" to grind.

    February 14, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  11. JC

    I am not sure how you find ANYONE today with a clear record, maybe they never existed, but the money this guy has taken from not so friendly foreign entities and groups and his unwillingness to publicly state and support our most consistently loyal ally in the Middle East gives me enough concern to say "no". Throw in a really weak personality, at least at the hearings, and his inability to answer, directly, even the most simple questions and.......he really talk his way out of the nomination for me.

    Guess he is lucky I don't have a vote!

    February 14, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  12. The REAL Truth...

    @freedom – He thinks he's above the law – but he's not.
    --------------------------–
    What you really meant to say is that you THINK he thinks he's above the law. And which "law" would that be anyway? It obvious that the GOP goonies are continuing with business as usual – make the POTUS look bad at every opportunity. Where was the indignation and vehement persuit of the "truth" for ANY ONE of the 18 attacks that occurred under Dubya's watch. We've had nowhere near that under Obama's watch.. even OBL is gone!
    The Grand Obstructionist Party is making this country the laughing stock of the planet...

    February 14, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  13. Moose

    All they had to do was not lie, whats so hard about that, its dangerous over there, ok, people get killed in those places, it happens, just dont freaking lie about it

    February 14, 2013 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  14. Mark in Atlanta

    Republicans can not seem to get their heads around the fact that the majority of Americans have rejected their extreme positions. Whatever you think of Hagel, he had NOTHING to do with Bengazi. Trying to block a vote on his nomination is offensive.

    February 14, 2013 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  15. Mo

    Is it too hard to ask and get an answer to the question of where the commander in chief was and what he was doing at the time of the Benghazi attacks? And if the POTUS will not answer those questions freely, then he must be forced to. This is a constitutional democracy, yes it still is, and until it is no longer so, the POTUS works for me and I want answers. By the way, the idea that the GOP thinks they run DC is absurd. They control 1/2 of one 1/3 of the government. And for all you constitutional scholars out there that feel you think its ok for the POTUS to obfuscate and deride and avoid his repsonsibility to answer such bothersome questions, think to yourself what you would be saying now if a GOPer was POTUS. Would you want an overhaul of the filibuster rules, a widely expanded interpretation of executive authority? The POTUS seems to always be speaking in terms where he is "fighting the man" to get his agenda through. If he was half a leader, and his ideas were half on the money, he'd be able to convince people that his agenda items are worth fighting for and he would not have lost the House in the 2012 elections. But he did, and the House of Representatives were sent there to represent their constituents, not rubber stamp the POTUS ideas. If you want that, move to Venezuela. Until then, understand that compromise is not defined as "what Obama wants" – other people live in America too, and it is our responsibility to question our leaders and fight for what we believe in. Sorry, that's just the truth.

    February 14, 2013 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  16. sonny chapman

    VICTORY !! You WON John MCcain & lap dog !

    February 14, 2013 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  17. Donna

    Why doesn't Obama just come clean about what happened in Benghazi? Literally every single fact and piece of information has had to be pulled from their sweaty grasp. Nearly 5 MONTHS after the event, Obama has not disclosed where he was, what he was doing, what HE did to help save the lives of those Americans, including our ambassador. This whole stinking mess wreaks of a massive coverup to protect Obama's re-election campaign, and now his presidency.

    February 14, 2013 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  18. asm_ith

    One day, there may be a Republican President again. Whether the Senate is controlled by the Democrats or whether there is just a Republican majority, the Republicans will are going to regret the actions they are taking now, because they are setting a precedent that they will have to live with in the future. They are saying that a President's nominee can essentially be held hostage for something that he/she had no involvement, just because some Senators are unhappy with how an administration has handled, responded, or not responded to them on a totally separate matter. Whether they are right or wrong on getting information about Benghazi doesn't matter; it shouldn't be held against Hagel. Next thing we'll here is these same Republicans complaining about problems at the Defense Department due to lack of leadership, especially if the sequester goes into effect.

    February 14, 2013 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  19. Woman In California

    It's beyond disgusting what the republicans are doing here. Anyone who thinks they care about what happened in Benghazi is lying to themselves. This is yet another useless effort on their lazy, bigoted part to try and hurt the president or force him to so things their way or else. They sought cooperation from the Obama adminstration and got it but nothing will satisfy these blood thirsty losers, except the resignation of our twice elected and duly capable president, (which they will never get). I hope they pay dearly for this underminded gansta behavior next year so that our country can get on with the business of the people without these unamerican troublemakers.

    February 14, 2013 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  20. Sly

    Ho ho ho – the Republicans eating their own.

    President Obama nominated a Republican to help 'reach across the aisle'.

    It appears the Republicans prefer another Democrat in this post. Talk about fools – they are 'obstructing' themselves right out of power.

    February 14, 2013 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  21. Darkseider

    Hmmm... Sounds to me like the White House is doing whatever it can to cover for Hillary's and Obama's failure at Benghazi. Now it seems they are doing what they can to keep Hagel a relevant choice. So between lies and more lies they are caught between a rock and a hard place. Sell out Obama and Hillary OR let Hagel flounder.

    February 14, 2013 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  22. JWN in SC

    You know some folks just can't get over losing! Mr. McCain take your puppy Lindsey and go home AND stay there, your lack of ability to govern is beyond the pale.

    February 14, 2013 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  23. Wilson

    National Security: "Today, the organization [al-Qa'ida] that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its former self." Tell that to the families of those killed in Benghazi and those suffering the ongoing battles in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen and our great ally, Israel.

    February 14, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  24. Mike from Seattle

    They can't pass a budget, they can't vote on cabinet nominees without fillibuster threats, and they can get anything done outside of an election year. I wonder if they all can recognize a pink slip?

    February 14, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  25. Wilson

    Debt: "Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion." This reduction is all smoke and mirrors, and it includes cuts that have not been made, interest expense savings that have not been saved, and reductions in budgetary spending increases that are called "cuts."

    February 14, 2013 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
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