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. Lynda/Minnesota

    "First, Obama is NOT President. He did not swear in on an American bible – he swore in on the Koran."

    Missed both Inaugurations, did you? Figures.

    BTW: just to clarify ... Obama was sworn in using Lincoln's bible in 2008, and using MLK and Michelle Obama's family bible in 2012. That Koran swearing in you're confused about ... that would have been MN Representative Keith Ellison ... who is a Muslim.

    February 14, 2013 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  2. Ragin Cajun

    We need a third party in this country in the worst possible way. One that does not allow the lunatic fringe of either extreme on to the debate platform. Unless we get it soon, the Democrats and Republicans will surely mutually destroy this nation with endless dribble and nonsense. Are we truly doomed between those who think that you can confiscate money at the ballot box and those who think a woman "has ways" to prevent an unwanted pregnancy if she just wills it hard enough in her heart?

    February 14, 2013 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  3. Elizabeth

    @ wilson

    If the national debt was already at 10 trillion when the President took office, and it is now at 16 trilion, how did the Presdent increase the debt by 60 percent? Your math is not adding up.

    February 14, 2013 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  4. chaser

    Are Lindsey "I went to skooooool" Graham, McCain, and the others still lose sleep over Bush and Cheney testifying not under oath, not recorded, and only together about 9/11?

    February 14, 2013 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  5. Sniffit

    ""First, Obama is NOT President. He did not swear in on an American bible – he swore in on the Koran."

    Missed both Inaugurations, did you? Figures.

    BTW: just to clarify ... Obama was sworn in using Lincoln's bible in 2008, and using MLK and Michelle Obama's family bible in 2012. That Koran swearing in you're confused about ... that would have been MN Representative Keith Ellison ... who is a Muslim."

    Wrong response Lynda, if only because you played into his sad and delusional argument. The correct response is as follows:

    "Nothing. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, requires the POTUS to swear in on a Bible or any other holy book. Period. He could swear the oath with his hand on a Playboy or Everybody Poops and it would still be effective. Now, take your uninformed fundamentalist Teatroll idiocy back to kindergarten....they're wondering where the class dunce went."

    February 14, 2013 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  6. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    @ Ragin Cajun

    Actually there's already a third party. Its called the tea party and jointly, the tea party and the gop are already destroying this country. And when you read the negative hateful comments by conservatives, its no wonder why these right wing politicians keep getting elected or re-elected. Let's face it, hate, envy and jealousy, bigotry and racism are the worst traits ever known to mankind and they are all rooted in the conservative movement.

    February 14, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  7. Nick

    Two things to consider: One, Hagel came across as a complete buffoon in his hearing; that alone should disqualify him and seriously call into question Obama's judgment. Two, this appears again to be Obama MIA from a crisis and throwing Hillary in front of the bus. Anyone who expects Obama to have their back better seriously look for an alternative.

    February 14, 2013 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  8. Rudy NYC

    Elizabeth

    @ wilson

    If the national debt was already at 10 trillion when the President took office, and it is now at 16 trilion, how did the Presdent increase the debt by 60 percent? Your math is not adding up.
    ----------------------------------
    Psst. Wilson's math is correct. ( 10 x 160% = 10 x 1.60 = 16 ) The problem is that Wilson apparently does not understand the fundamental difference between debt and deficit.

    February 14, 2013 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  9. Ben

    THe Republicans have gone crazy. Things happen. It's a shame 4 lives were lot in Libya, but that is uncontrollable. Answer me this: Why is the GOP more upset about this than the 1984 Marine Barracks Bombing that killed 241 US Servicemen? That wasn't used as a political football. It was used as a call to arms.

    The GOP doesn't want to improve things, it just wants to lay blame where none exists. Shame on them. They're causing our country to go down the tubes.

    February 14, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  10. simplyput

    Ooops...one half of the 50% who voted makes a 25% *majority.* O has no majority mandate to spend a dime.

    February 14, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  11. Smacky Smooth

    What a bunch of malarkey that is in our Congress. When the children in Washington are done, may the adults continue real discussion please? What a pathetic excuse of a governmental system we have currently. can i think of a better one, no perhaps not, but it is still painful to watch the decay of our government accelerating. No one wants to do their jobs, no one even remembers they were supposed to be civil SERVANTS....anything the originators of our system of government tried to set up is now dust.

    February 14, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  12. PJ

    The Party of NO led by the very old John McCain will do everything possible to block anything Obama wants. Obama beat McCain in 2008 and that is unforgivable

    February 14, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  13. mgctampa

    This entire thing is silly, hold up a confirmation because they want information on something he had nothing to do with? During a dangerous time with North Korea and Iran sitting there just because silly lindsey is throwing a tantrum?? These clowns would be fired in the real business world. Either govern or go home!!!

    February 14, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  14. cleareye1

    The Republicans should be truly ashamed of themselves for stabbing one of their own in the back just in order to embarrass Obama. Hagel is a legitimate war hero, something few other Republicans can claim, and yet they claims to know what is best for the military. Hubris? Record setting!

    February 14, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  15. lance corporal

    keep obstructing GOP, the voters are watching and they have seen that you have no clothes

    February 14, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  16. Lynda/Minnesota

    Yeah, Sniffit. I know I did. The problem for me is there are idiots who WILL believe this garbage they spew.
    And as sick as THAT is, I am so tired of the hate.

    February 14, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  17. lance corporal

    keep up the obstructionist tactics, the voters are watching and they have figured out that you are wearing no clothes

    February 14, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  18. Sniffit

    And here we are, GOP/Teatrolls setting extremely dangerous and damaging precedent by enacting the first filibuster of a cabinet nominee EVER in the history of our nation.

    This is nothing less than the GOP/Teatrolls continuing their "government is broken...see...we broke it" shenanigans.

    February 14, 2013 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  19. mgctampa

    Hey Nick, obviously you have never managed people. Clinton's job was to handle this situation. The president is the boss he was not secretary of state. The president has a huge job which is why he has a cabinet to handle specific areas. Its called management. Only a fool thinks one man can do everything. I expect my managers to handle their areas, If I have to go in and do it, then I don't need them.

    February 14, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  20. Ben

    Waaaaaaa, we lost the election. Waaaaaaaaaaa. If we can't have it all our way, we will make sure that nobody wins. We will block everything. What a bunch of whining losers. Un-American, these GOP congressmen and Senators should all be tried for treason. They'd rather see America go down the tubes than to not get their way. Sad.

    Remember the GOP Obstructionsits come the next election, people.

    February 14, 2013 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  21. Carl

    The GOP needs one win against Obama, however small, to ignite the anti-Obama feelings that are prevalent across the conuntry and in Congress. I hope this will start the ball rolling.

    February 14, 2013 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  22. craig

    Why does the Senate continue to allow this sort of stupidity? "I'll vote for him next week but not this week?" What kind of leadership is this? It's more like third grade recess. If the man is qualified, he won't become more qualified in another week. The GOP needs to grow up and act like adults, or at least middle schoolers. Their kindergarten antics are getting us nowhere, and in 2014 there will be even fewer of them.

    February 14, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  23. Wilson

    "The problem is that Wilson apparently does not understand the fundamental difference between debt and deficit."
    ---------------------–
    To quote Hillary, "What difference does it make?" At this point both are equally damaging to the country. Yes, I do know the difference and my statement was accurate.

    February 14, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  24. callmecrazy

    @lance corporal

    "keep obstructing GOP, the voters are watching and they have seen that you have no clothes"

    You just blazed an image of a naked John McCain on my brain. Thanks for that.

    February 14, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  25. dfz

    There is neither a constitutional nor a statutory requirement that the president be sworn in using ANY book of sacred law; the president need only recite the oath, word for word, specified in the constitution. Use of the bible became a TRADITION, not a requirement. Washington chose to take the oath with his hand on the bible and in doing so established a TRADITION; Theodore Roosevelt did not use the bible when he took the oath, neither did John Q. Adams (Adams opted for a law book), nor did Lyndon Johnson. So, my right-wing religious zealots, spare us this noise about not being the president because he was not sworn in on YOUR book of sacred law.

    February 14, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
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