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. Robert G.

    The GOP has set yet another filibuster record by becoming the first party to successfully filibustered a cabinet nominee, already capturing their own Chuck Hagel a coveted spot in U.S. history. Bet he didn't expect that from his own. But then the GOP always loves to eat their own.

    February 14, 2013 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  2. tonyl

    Bunch of low lives GOP fools. They wasted so much time of the senate but will now vote again after the recess and not block it. So basically just wasted the country precious time. They don't do much accept suck money from the tax payers for doing nothing all day long then they just waste time on the senate floor. Billions of our dollars are wasted on the salaries of these worthless excuse for humans.

    February 14, 2013 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  3. Jack33

    Fact: over the last 4 years, Senate republicans have filibustered – thus blocked from happening – more bills than ever before in US Senate history.

    You want to know why not enough gets done one way or another, there is your answer.

    February 14, 2013 10:59 pm at 10:59 pm |
  4. Mary1972

    Why don't people start Recall on some of these guys who don't do anything but take tax payers $$$.

    February 14, 2013 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  5. AE

    There BS can is full, man I am sick of these obstructionist killing off this country.... Get a clue lads!!!!!!!!

    February 14, 2013 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  6. useyourbrain

    Can we filibuster the republican party and then convict them of obstruction of justice? What a bunch of turncoat traitors.

    February 14, 2013 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  7. Homer10

    Republicans killing their own again. Hagel just isn't NAZ! enough for them. This is why the Republican party is in such disarray. For Gods sake Hagel is a Republican. Here's their chance to affect policy, and they argue over his selection. They have lost their minds.

    February 14, 2013 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  8. J Robinson

    "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.
    No, its not nonsense. In fact, Senator Hagel demonstrated courageous to the brainless pursuit of the horrible fiasco that was Iraq. He has demonstrated integrity, whereas McCain only demonstrates the convictions of a stubborn old man intent on getting even with someone who dared tell the truth about a dangerously incompetent presidency.

    February 14, 2013 11:14 pm at 11:14 pm |
  9. Tony Antin

    Once again, Republicans obstructing. And once again, the man who said Sara Palin was fit to be president is a leading obstructionist. And the business of tying their objections to questions about Benghazi is silly. If Obama and his staff have vetted Hagel and want him on the cabinet, I can't see that GOP senators are smarter and/or more patriotic.

    February 14, 2013 11:18 pm at 11:18 pm |
  10. OWestbrooks

    Why would the president be in Libya? You need to stop watching fox news and actuallty try reading a book.

    February 14, 2013 11:19 pm at 11:19 pm |
  11. J Roby

    Hard to feel sorry for Majority Leader Reid. He had an opportunity to solve the filibuster behavior but chose to trust the Republican tea baggers to control their obstructionist tendencies.

    That being said how can we trust the Republicans from altering the Senate rules themselves next time they get the opportunity. Anyone see any reason to trust the Republican tea baggers again or have we finally learned out lesson.

    February 14, 2013 11:20 pm at 11:20 pm |
  12. Larry L

    @gsgofer

    Whatever happened to rule by majority?
    =============================
    We don't do that stuff anymore. Now, a single Republican who has the hope of discrediting the President, no matter how foolish the issue, can block all progress and snarl our government up in gridlock. Bills must pass through the Senate and since the Senate is now totally rendered useless by Republicans who don't believe in democracy, our government is controlled by the Tea Party, the N.R.A., and the Koch brothers. Everybody okay with that?

    February 14, 2013 11:21 pm at 11:21 pm |
  13. umpire12

    Can't trust republicans and gop why are the still in congress? i don't know some people need to answer for that alone. i am sick of it GOP say it was going to work together. Though we all knew this would go back to what it was before. How does obama do his job when half of these politics don't do there job? Its like if you go to work in retail waiting for your manager boss to open door but they don't bother showing up you can't do your job so what happens business go bye bye you loose a job and have to find another one

    February 14, 2013 11:22 pm at 11:22 pm |
  14. Larry L

    @Ted

    Do we really want this sad-faced appologist to be our military leader?
    ======================
    Right! Why would we want actual veterans who have actually served in a war to make our military decisions? Does Halliburton have anybody available?

    February 14, 2013 11:25 pm at 11:25 pm |
  15. mbrown

    Good. Hagel sounded dumber than a stick. I was surprised he was a Replublican as it is people like Pelosi and Reid that sound like they are in some stage of dementia.

    February 14, 2013 11:31 pm at 11:31 pm |
  16. Larry L

    @'Anonymous – See Republicans even hold each other accountable'
    ==========================
    Even better! Mitch McConnell recently filibustered his own proposal! He wasn't obstructing progress. He was holding himself accountable!

    February 14, 2013 11:32 pm at 11:32 pm |
  17. Joe

    Republicans are a joke....please some explain to me WHAT DOES HAGEL HAVE TO DO WITH BENGHAZI!!!!

    Seriously GOP is borderline treasonist at this point.

    February 14, 2013 11:36 pm at 11:36 pm |
  18. darly314

    The radicals control the party; the sheep follow. it is to be hoped they are DECIMATED in 2014.

    February 14, 2013 11:38 pm at 11:38 pm |
  19. t3chn0ph0b3

    Have fun making an entire country not function, GOP. You'll hear about it in 2014.

    February 14, 2013 11:49 pm at 11:49 pm |
  20. tonyl

    GOP has been given strict orders by Netanyahu that until Hagel gives them his absolute word that he will abide by Netanyahu orders and will attack Iran when Netanyyahu say GO!!!! Until then Hagel cannot be accepted as a secretary of defense. Our military is run by the Israeli Knesset and our congress takes orders from the prime minister if Israel.

    February 14, 2013 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  21. sosume

    This is just juvenile behavior; really pathetic.

    February 14, 2013 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  22. Beefburger

    Great, we go from having the former head of the CIA in charge of the military to someone who didn't make it past the rank of E-4. Lovely.

    February 15, 2013 12:00 am at 12:00 am |
  23. Jen

    Why would you waste your vote by voting "present"? You have a vote in the Congress of the most powerful nation on earth, why would you throw away a vote simply to get your name in the paper?

    February 15, 2013 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
  24. Christian

    All republican senators need to be deported to israel.

    February 15, 2013 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
  25. Smarterest Human

    Imagine that! Rethugs being OBSTRUCTIONISTS! Same old, Same old.

    February 15, 2013 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
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