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. Kurt

    I honestly hate republicans. I don't apologize for it either.

    February 14, 2013 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  2. DavidInNC

    Doesn't the GOP realize that the more roadblocks that they invent in congress, the more support they will loose in the future from voters?

    February 14, 2013 09:42 pm at 9:42 pm |
  3. DocHollywood

    What a pathetic side show the republican party has turned into. What was the reason McCain, Graham and Ayotte opposed the nomination? Because of a state department issue? FFS! And then they said they got the answer they wanted, but still voted against cloture. What a bunch of clown. And Texas once again sends a senator to congress to make all Americans ashamed. Cruz wants to bring back McCarthism. It looks like the 113th congress is going to be even worse than the 112th. Republicans, please stop embarassing yourselves and your country.

    February 14, 2013 09:42 pm at 9:42 pm |
  4. KK

    McCain should resign, seems old age got to him. His side kick Graham should also resign. Repubs are designed to be a minority party and could not govern. When they had a chance look what they did. Let the terrorists attack us and start two wars to feed the war machine and their buddies. I am sick of these guys. I have no respect for them. Too much for each senator. Bring on the term limits and let the no-good fellows get a job.

    February 14, 2013 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  5. VCMD

    President Obama has deliberately chosen to confront Republicans instead of working with them. This country is full of people who are capable of serving as Secretary but he chose to try to steamroll them. He then goes out and cries that Republicans are not being nice to him. He has been playing this silly game for four years and it's pathetic to see a lot of people falling for this childish trick. It shows the maturity of our citizens..

    February 14, 2013 09:48 pm at 9:48 pm |
  6. Relieved

    I am so grateful that there are still 45 decent adults in Washington! What a disaster Hagel would have been. At least good prevails some of the time in this crazy world.

    February 14, 2013 09:48 pm at 9:48 pm |
  7. jrm03063

    Here they are America! THE REPUBLICAN PARTY! The folks who would rather that the most costly and critical department in the US Government lacked leadership, just because they got their butts handed to them in the last election! But take heart America, after all, things COULD BE WORSE! How? Imagine if the last election had put THESE BUFFOONS IN CHARGE?

    February 14, 2013 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  8. essmeier

    If Jesus had been the nominee, the Republicans would have filibustered the nomination.

    February 14, 2013 09:54 pm at 9:54 pm |
  9. Tony in Maine

    Dear Harry,

    Never, ever, trust a Republican. They will lie, cheat and steal every time.

    Your mother

    February 14, 2013 09:54 pm at 9:54 pm |
  10. josh44

    With any luck, Graham will not be re-elected! John McCain is just a bitter old man who never got over not being elected President.

    February 14, 2013 09:54 pm at 9:54 pm |
  11. sue

    Republicans are bent on dividing the nation in two enemy factions. Clearly their agenda is more important to them than the US as a whole. You cannot call these people "Americans" anymore.

    February 14, 2013 09:58 pm at 9:58 pm |
  12. Saboth

    Welcome to 2013, same 'old Republican obstructionism that's been hurting our country for the past 2 years. And due to gerrymandering, there's no hope of removing these GOP do-nothings any time in the near future.

    February 14, 2013 09:59 pm at 9:59 pm |
  13. Tell it like it is

    Blah blah blah blah, all you people do is moan, groan and complain about the GOP. Who is responsible for the 6.5 billion in tax hikes? The Dems..... who is responsible for the elimination of the payroll tax FOR EVERYONE THAT IS EMPLOYED? The Dems. Who orchestrated the mandatory sequester that is coming due next month? President Obama. But Obama and the Dems want to blame the Repubs, or Bush. It's been Obama's administration for over 4 years now – he needs to grow a pair and take responsibility. But keep drinking the Kool-Aid and do as your supreme leader orders you to do. That is what they need to get the vote.

    February 14, 2013 10:01 pm at 10:01 pm |
  14. Heebeejeebee

    Sour grapes because the guy spoke truth? GW Bush really was the worst US President since Herbert Hoover (who was also a Republican). This is what we pay these guys to do? Play silly political games when there is much more important work to so. Pathetic. I'm an Independent and a vet by the way, lest anyone think I'm just a griping Democrat. Sick of all these stupid games.

    February 14, 2013 10:01 pm at 10:01 pm |
  15. The Dude

    Let me get this straight. The GOP could not produce financial records for their boy Romney but now they want financial records for a Republican nominee for Sec of State? Really?

    February 14, 2013 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  16. Robbie

    I know that I have been motivated to vote Democratic and have found the
    Republicans to be mean, manipulative in a destructive way, hypocritical, and "truth and fact challenged". I will be working via money and volunteering of the next few YEARS to reduce their impact on our country.

    February 14, 2013 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  17. Dan5404

    They are touting how the GOP is changing. Yes, they are changing to more categories of "no" and obstruction, filibustering and blocking a presidential nomination with a minority of votes for the first time in the country's history. They threaten the country's future with manufactured crises and blackmail tactics. McCain has lost all credibility with me after flip-flopping on this and other issues, and turning his back on a long-time fellow veteran. Actually, this has nothing to do with anything other than the fact that Hagel was a Republican who got disgusted with the politics of the Bush gang and told the truth about Bush's presidency. They are not true representatives of the people, they just want revenge against the president and his party for defeating them in two national elections, despite GOP voter suppression, gerrymandering and attempts to have their billionaire friends buy the election process.

    February 14, 2013 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  18. Insight

    GOP is doomed

    February 14, 2013 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  19. Mark in Omaha

    The GOP has Tea-Stained teeth. They continue to put party ahead of Country...throw the yahoo's out of office!

    February 14, 2013 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  20. fayray11

    the party of No, Filibuster, Lies, Hate and Insults just doing what they do best.

    February 14, 2013 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  21. Dave

    I guess if you avoid doing anything you never make a mistake.

    The GOP have confused the first and second ammendments and joined them together.......you have the freedom to shoot off your mouth.

    The rest of the world is laughing.

    February 14, 2013 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  22. michelangelo64

    Stupid freaking GOP!!!! All they seem to know how to do is hold up progress!!!!! And our tax dollars are paying those piece of craps!!!!!

    February 14, 2013 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  23. Postmaster

    Give it a rest, the democrats are every bit as bad as the republicans, you just won't admit it.

    February 14, 2013 10:42 pm at 10:42 pm |
  24. Antor

    They have legitimate concerns over this nominee. They didn't hold up Kerry, and you know the GOP dislikes Kerry, a very liberal guy. So to say the GOP is just holding this up for poops and giggles is wholely unfair and selective memory.

    February 14, 2013 10:46 pm at 10:46 pm |
  25. steve851

    My former party has an obvious death wish. It should stick to the serious issues on which it has the upper hand instead of constantly shooting itself in the foot with nonsense like this

    February 14, 2013 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
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