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. Kat

    I suggest a change of animal for the GoP. An elephant is an intelligent, compassionate animal that helps it's own kind when in need and is known to have quite the memory. This is clearly not their symbol, at least not any more.

    Instead of an elephant, their new symbol should be Tardar Sauce the Cat. It looks miserable (even when happy) and is best known for saying "No". Clearly a better fit.

    February 15, 2013 03:47 am at 3:47 am |
  2. miscreantsall

    Hey "conservatives" ?

    Question: Historically…………………..how many times has the filibuster scheme been used in the past 25 years? I'm just wondering if any of you guys could gather that info impartially and make it public. Any one's guess which party uses this method more?
    :-)

    February 15, 2013 04:13 am at 4:13 am |
  3. Bluegrass

    Is McCain serious? He made his career out of being "Mr. Maverick" when it came to going against his own party, now he holds that very thing against Hagel? He got out-mavericked by his ol' war buddy it seems like, and doesn't like it. Does he think HE should be Sec. of Defense? By his own standards he wouldn't confirm himself, lol.

    February 15, 2013 04:52 am at 4:52 am |
  4. Observer

    GOP has became the "Great Obstructionist Party", same acronym but a different party. I hope followers understand what their party has became, how is hurting the country and the need to pressure their leaders for a more reasonable approach.

    February 15, 2013 05:04 am at 5:04 am |
  5. justbeamensch

    From the line in Glengary Glenn Ross, clowns like Lindsey Graham " should not be allowed in the vicinity of men trying to make a living."

    February 15, 2013 05:14 am at 5:14 am |
  6. Nate

    So, the GOP has more questions about the nomination, say they will vote for cloture after the questions are addressed, and this is somehow obstruction. Try 'Due Diligence'.

    February 15, 2013 05:29 am at 5:29 am |
  7. Will

    This is about Israel and AIPAC. Why can't the reporter just tell the truth. They don't like him and they have the most powerful lobby in America.

    They own the the Republican party, of course.

    February 15, 2013 05:31 am at 5:31 am |
  8. sgraffwriter

    The blame for this debacle is on Harry Reid's shoulders. He could've allowed real filibuster reform to go forward. Even a watered down version of the reform sought by younger dem senators would have been better than the stupid gentleman's deal that Reid and McConnell agreed to. Now we see how the republicans never intended to honor any such agreement.

    February 15, 2013 05:32 am at 5:32 am |
  9. scars

    The simple truth is that Israel doesn't want him and our elected leaders are so afraid that they will lose big campaign donations from AIPAC if they go against Israel's wishes. It is time for America to face the fact that the US is now an occupied terrority. When you allow another country to dictate your own foreign policy, you can't really call yourselves the land of the free and the home of the brave anymore.

    February 15, 2013 05:40 am at 5:40 am |
  10. FloydZepp

    The GOP is obstructing its way into oblivion. Good Riddance

    February 15, 2013 05:44 am at 5:44 am |
  11. craig

    "I won't vote for it today, but I will in a week or so." What the heck is that? Nothing is going to change in that time, so it's pretty clear that the GOP is still stupid, and still doing and saying stupid things...and we, the American People, are fed up with it. Don't think we'll forget, because we won't. We might have to wait until 2014, but we'll remember then. It's obvious the GOP has no interest in working for the American People, and we WILL remember that, largely because they keep reminding us.

    February 15, 2013 05:53 am at 5:53 am |
  12. StineMan

    Lindsey Graham and John McCain are quite a pair. Graham has never done a thing but try to keep his Senate seat and McCain has never got over his AW when he ran for President. I heard Graham whine on a TV interview that while Christmas shopping he ran into a voter at home who said "please don't let them take away my guns'. He knows darn well that we do not need assalt weapons in the closet but acts like the government is in the wings trying to take our shot guns away. What a coward he is. McCain is no more that a disappointed hot head. Is this the best that those two states can elect? Those two losers are a great case for term limits.

    February 15, 2013 06:11 am at 6:11 am |
  13. JustSaying2U

    Just when you think senate Republicans couldn't get any lower, they've resorted to playing politics with national security. How, any American, could self-identify as a Republican defies logic!!! i never thought I would see such a day.

    February 15, 2013 06:24 am at 6:24 am |
  14. Marie MD

    If this wasn't one step from treason (or maybe it is) and making the US look weak to the world it would be funny how mcnasty has thrown his buddy Hagel under the bus. At least Hagel followed orders and didn't end up a POW!!
    First of all, "the people" (because the rethugs are always talking about what the American people know without having a clue) probably don't remember what Hagel said about bush and I am pretty sure that whatever ge said was warranted.
    What the world will NEVER forget old man is you bringing forth that mutant from AK. The one who started this hatred of everything and everyone "not like you". What a legacy after so many years, when you were not senile and full of hate, you are leaving.

    February 15, 2013 06:30 am at 6:30 am |
  15. Dumbpolitics

    What a joke the GOP is making us Americans look like. They have spent more time and money on Benghazi then they did on Cheney's Iraq war

    February 15, 2013 06:48 am at 6:48 am |
  16. Sam

    They want filibuster?
    Let them do real filibuster then. Let them pee in the pants on the podium while reading from a phone book.
    It would be fun, actually. Cruise ship story and the senate story.

    February 15, 2013 06:48 am at 6:48 am |
  17. TommytheT

    Reid took to the Senate floor on Thursday morning, building pressure on Republicans to back off of their threats. "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."

    Oh ok than, let's just forget getting rushing and have open questions about such an important position, certainly let's just quickly move ahead because the great and power Reid is upset.

    February 15, 2013 06:48 am at 6:48 am |
  18. Fredd Fezzo

    So much for filibuster reform. The political process in this country has become a joke in very poor taste. It's two bull buttin' heads. These Republi-puke clowns block a cabinet level appointment because of the Bengazi issue, which is no way connected to the Defense Dept. Chuck Hagel has been asked to oversee. What does Bengazi have to do with the Defense Dept.?

    February 15, 2013 06:51 am at 6:51 am |
  19. crabman2

    I watched this unfold on C-span ,live . I particularly was watching Harry Ried to catch his reactions . He was not a happy camper . It did my heart good to watch him act like a petulant child after the vote . His demeanor during his comments on the floor was hilarious . He could barely contain himself due to his frustration .
    It's always entrtaining to watch a spoiled child throw a fit when they don't get what they want , and Harry did not disappoint . He was beside himself with anger . What a great show !!!!
    I went to bed a happy man .

    February 15, 2013 06:51 am at 6:51 am |
  20. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Well, in formulating his new "team of rivals" for his new cabinet I believe the President should start appointing hard line republicans to some key positions. John McCain should be slated to be the nominee for the position. No, I misspoke. McCain should be named White House dog walker. I'm sure Bo would approve.

    February 15, 2013 07:00 am at 7:00 am |
  21. Guest

    Hagel has a history of anti-Israel stances and there are tapes of speeches he has given to anti-Israeli Palistinian groups. We don't need any more anti-semetic leaders.

    February 15, 2013 07:04 am at 7:04 am |
  22. Charlie

    In a word . . . disgraceful . . . what partisan disregard for the responsible use of elected power in what we wistfully proclaim as a democracy.

    February 15, 2013 07:07 am at 7:07 am |
  23. Don

    I lived several years with Chuck Hagel representing me in congress. He's an honest, ethical man with high moral character and a solid mildde-of-the-road stance on most issues. He's a man that looks at both sides and sees what's best for his state and his country. I guess that's why the foaming-at-the-mouth radicals on the right hate him so much. He was the traditional Republican party, they are the new. That's why so many of us have left that party.

    February 15, 2013 07:11 am at 7:11 am |
  24. John

    It's not a problem and Hagel will ultimately get the vote. The GOP is in a sorry state and they only manage to dig a deeper hole. Until someone in the party is willing to take a stand against the evangelicals, who have maintained a strangle-hold on the GOP for more than a decade now, they are going to continue to fail in the political arena. My wife and I abandoned the party after more than 35 years following actions being fully spirited by the republican party administration which have been nothing short of despicable.

    February 15, 2013 07:13 am at 7:13 am |
  25. Caribel

    The Republican Party is holding up the process of governance of our country. We should remember that and vote against them on all levels possible in whatever elections are held. They are out of touch, obstructionists, and yes, racists.

    February 15, 2013 07:18 am at 7:18 am |
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