February 14th, 2013
11:28 AM ET
10 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.

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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. JeffersonLives

    I like Hagel, but the administration should answer the questions being asked. Especially the ones dealing with financial contributions and funding

    February 14, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  2. Rudy NYC

    from the article:

    McCain's vote is important because he is one of the leading Republicans on military matters and other senators are expected to follow his lead.
    Please take notice of the fact that McCain is *not listed* as being a senior member of any committee. Term limit rules in the Senate limit how many and how long a person may serve as senior committee members. McCain has run out the clock, which is probably why he ran for POTUS in 2008. He saw this day coming. The only committees that McCain are new committees, or special temporary or investigative committees, which arguably amount to a "new" committee.

    February 14, 2013 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  3. plain&simple

    Stand up to the bullies! Americans will take account.

    February 14, 2013 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  4. ellid

    This is ridiculous – Hagel had nothing to do with the STATE DEPARTMENT last fall. If the Republicans want even more answers, they should ask Secretary Kerry, not grandstand over A MEMBER OF THEIR OWN PARTY becoming SecDef.

    February 14, 2013 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  5. Bill from GA

    The only goal of the republican party is to obstruct any efforts of the Obama administration to run this country.

    They tried this with Clinton and wasted much time we could have spent working on problems the country is now facing. (Medicare and Social Security funding, for starts) While republicans were impeaching a president for no reason, we, as a nation, were weakening our focus on attacking bin laden. But the important matter for republicans was to bring down a president, not our Country's enemies.

    Let this President do his job.

    February 14, 2013 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  6. Vern

    Four Americans die in Bengazi, and Republicans go ape. Where was their outrage over Iraq? Where was their outrage over Abu Gharib? Oh, could it be that it's because a Democrat is in office?

    LIndsey Graham, especially, is acting like a lunatic over this. Bengazi is a serious issue, but it isn't worth holding up the nomination for SecDef over. It isn't worth the obsession that the GOP and FOX News have made of it. They've heard from everyone in the Administration, yet they still obsess. This is a microcosm of why the Republican Party is unfit to govern under it's current structure and leadership. They have no ideas, only negative ranting as their core. Until they purge the extremists from their midst, the American people should continue to deny them power in national politics.

    February 14, 2013 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  7. pkMyt1

    This has nothing to do with Hagel. The GOP wasn't happy with Clinton's response so now they will play their "Just say No" card again.

    February 14, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  8. Ribert Jay

    Who the heel are thses peopel to question ANY president? Where were they when the gas plant in whereverwas recently attacked – there were Americans there too? Should we havea battalion of Marines areound every American every where ? Those people in the embassyu weer big boys wearing big boys pants – too hot in the kitchen ? Get the hellout ! You need the president to telL you that- Pure REPUBLICAN BS to avaid doing anyything constructive -Thank GOD formid term elections!

    February 14, 2013 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  9. Fair is Fair


    This is ridiculous – Hagel had nothing to do with the STATE DEPARTMENT last fall. If the Republicans want even more answers, they should ask Secretary Kerry
    Ummmmmmmmm... Secretary Kerry had nothing to do with the STATE DEPARTMENT last fall either. What an inane statemant.

    February 14, 2013 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  10. Sniffit

    "Ummmmmmmmm... Secretary Kerry had nothing to do with the STATE DEPARTMENT last fall either. What an inane statemant."

    Ummmm, Kerry is in charge of it now, privy to all the information and docs, and it all lies within his possession, custody and control. Think first, THEN speak.

    February 14, 2013 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  11. Dick_D

    How low will the GOP go to screw this country up? Maybe Obama should capitulate and nominate a Republican to be Secretary of Defense. Oh wait............

    February 14, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  12. Carml

    So the petulant ole guys are making public fools of themselves again. Careful fellas ...... as you shud have learned by now, the voters will remember!

    February 14, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  13. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    The GOP, the source said, is taking an "unsustainable and suicidal position" and "if they want to have this fight, we will have it."
    Except that you're NOT fighting you're mollifying and caving to these Obstructing All Obama jerks.
    This is NOT what a fight looks like Democraps. Let the President get on the airwaves and tell everyone that the GOP is blocking key positions from being filled in his Cabinet. Positions that puts our national security at risk.
    Stop being scared punks always caving to these mental-midget bullies.
    Stand your freaking ground for a change and let the proverbial chips fall where they may. CALL THEIR BLUFF!! STOP BEING SO SCARED!
    God, you wear me the hell out.

    February 14, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  14. sonny chapman

    If the REAL 9-11 had happened on a Dem. President's watch, these guys would be STILL investigating that one.

    February 14, 2013 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  15. Sniffit

    "Let this President do his job."

    That's not even on their To-Do list. In fact, their To-Do list starts with "prevent the POTUS from doing anything whatsoever."

    February 14, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  16. NameBill

    Graham & McCain are pathetic! They used to be sensible Senators. Now they do everything they can to hurt this country!

    February 14, 2013 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  17. Billy Bob Republican

    Yes obstruction is what we do best.

    February 14, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  18. ghostriter

    Aren't they holding up another appointment because Rand Paul read rumors in the internet that cause him concern?

    Lemme guess.....glenbeck.com......

    February 14, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  19. Frankie

    It's amazing to me how they were okay with one year of Mitt Romney's finances, but want more from Hagel. Besides that though these three are acting like children. There are not more than a few republican strategist who just can't believe what they are doing, they say it is not a good idea.

    February 14, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  20. Randy, San Francisco

    These Republican Senators on the committee are tone deaf obstructionists. They are using the Benghazi incident for political purposes, to block any nomination by President Obama. I

    February 14, 2013 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  21. AZ Girl

    I wish all of these supposed "senior members" would GROW UP! This is like me saying "I will pay my electric bill when the cable company explains to me why there was a service outage two weeks ago. It's all connected because the cable runs on the electricity, so they must have conspired together."

    Before you say it, yes I understand that there were people killed; but nomination hearings is

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

    Are the Republicans prepared to someday take leadership of the Executive Branch (God forbid) knowing the Democrats will remember the methods of obstructionism used today? Will they be okay with each individual Senator blocking all laws, budgets ,and appointments with a filibuster? Will they expect the Democrats to also become political terrorists?

    February 14, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  23. freedom

    The next step will be to subpoena the president to testify before the Grand Jury. Like they did with Nixon and Clinton. It's been done before – for less. No one died in the other two cases.

    February 14, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  24. Guest

    Accountability! The answers from the left have been insufficient, misleading, and/or outright lies. What are they hiding? The truth, they didnt want Oblabla election screwed up with the facts which illustarte the failures..

    February 14, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  25. Doug in NYC

    I thought the republicants were all about National Defense? Now they don't want anyone to head the Defense Department? This makes absolutely no sense, but that's republicants for you.......

    February 14, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
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