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. Ray

    Harry Reid should have known better than to trust the republicans to reign in filibusters. If republicans could be trusted to act honorably...then they would have been doing that all along.

    February 14, 2013 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  2. Colin Earl

    Truly insane! But maybe this will force the Democrats to wake up and realize that they need to take the nuclear option and eliminate the filibuster at the start of the next senate session?

    Of course, I am joking. The Democrats are too gutless to do anything except whine about it. It is entirely in their power to stop this BS and they not going to do it. They do even realize how deeply Americans, both red and blue, recognize and despise such cowardice.

    February 14, 2013 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  3. Mike

    How hard is it to answer a few stupid questions. Want to avoid the filibuster? Then answer the questions that the folks doing the filibustering are asking. How hard is that?
    What is more serious is that if there are indeed some serious questions being raised then why are Democrats trying to speed through the nomination process? It is akin to passing a bill without reading it, but then again they do THAT all the time.

    February 14, 2013 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  4. radgast

    This is a game to them. nothing more... Someday someone is going to pull the rug out from these senators. There reason to vote no now but yes next week unless there is a bombshell of new information is clearly one of many indicators there opposition has no real merit. Personally I think the whole Benghazi is a wannabe made up scandal that has a few legitimate concerns that has been way overblown and over played. If anything it should be the democrats who are happy he doesn't get the job, in fact Obama should pull his nomination and put forward a left extremist.

    February 14, 2013 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  5. LL

    It's not just that the GOP is dying and knows that they are a dying party.

    They want to take this country down with them. All the while, they are milking it for their own self-gain.

    GOP - –HAGEL IS A REPUBLICAN. You blocked a REPUBLICAN nom by a DEMOCRAT president. How stupid can you get? Oh, you are the ones that just filibustered two of your own bills recently.

    America, the GOP has lost their minds!

    February 14, 2013 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  6. jnpa

    The obstructionists are at it again.

    February 14, 2013 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  7. ken2112

    I love the fact that the Republicans continue their quest to become the most hated, self serving party we have. Keep up the good work boys and girls, you don't have a snowball's chance in Hell of ever getting one of your candidates into the White House.

    February 14, 2013 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  8. Monica

    Gsgofer: the government only rules by majority when that majority falls in democratic favor. If it falls in Republican favor then the libs cry and screaming and have a tantrum like a bunch of 5 year olds. Double standard all the way.

    February 14, 2013 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  9. well

    AIPAC wagging the dog via conscience-free GOP senators.

    February 14, 2013 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  10. Sean

    So here we go. Republicans once again have shown to the nation how little they have faith in their own President that we the people nominated. Basically they the GOP is telling the world that war will be imminent. Big oil will once again thrive and we will now lose the middle class. Time to rise up and overhaul the Republicans!!!

    February 14, 2013 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  11. ML

    I'm a democrat, but I'm really happy the republicans are blocking his nomination. I can't believe I'm going to say this, but, Thank You GOP!

    February 14, 2013 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  12. ari

    what a load of nonsense... his confirmation is inevitable, all democrats will vote for him 2 weeks from now, and that's all he needs... more useless GOP obstructionism!

    February 14, 2013 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  13. pmmarion

    Nuclear option... Do it..

    February 14, 2013 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  14. korkea aika

    We the American people have the government we deserve. the people are divided, that's why government is. I personally cannot even talk to a republican anymore, sadly to say. After trying to impeach bill clinton, starting 2 wars, and lying about it, emptying out the treasury into the pockets of the mega-wealthy, I don't want my elected officials to move a finger to cooperate with these people either. so there we have it.

    February 14, 2013 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  15. Ben

    Days like this make me glad I stopped voting republican after 30 years. It's really difficult to believe that the republicans would obstruct the best choice for defense in decades, and one of their own at that. So much for bipartisanship. Maybe they should note that Romney campaigned on his support for Israel and the American people decisively sent Romney back to the private sector.

    February 14, 2013 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  16. well

    not that hagel is some big catch for the genuine left. prolly it's better for 99% to have someone whose color is clear.

    February 14, 2013 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  17. korkea aika

    oh and did I mention, mitt robbed-me tried to close down Obamacare??? the best thing that the gov't has done for US citizens since social security.

    February 14, 2013 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  18. stewart

    Once again the party of NO strikes again time for them to just go away

    February 14, 2013 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  19. Scott

    Thank goodness someone is looking out for our National Defense. Good job, GOP, Hagel smells of fish.

    February 14, 2013 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  20. AnnieM

    The GOP – the party of no: Integrity, brains, sense, concern for the American people and hopefully in the next four years, no more.

    February 14, 2013 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  21. Guido

    The President should tell the Republicans that he knew in advance that Benghazi was going to be attacked and that he decided to do nothing about it. That he told Susan Rice to go on TV and say what she said. Then he should tell the House Republicans that his admission proves that "Torture will get you and answer, but it won't be the correct one." Because they are certainly trying to repeat the Bush Administration's belief that torture didn't get Bin Laden, just ask John McCain.

    February 14, 2013 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  22. Mark Howell

    Hagel's finances? C'mon, I was born at night, but not last night. The Israel Lobby, the second most powerful lobby (after AARP) according to a poll of congress, is behind this holdup.

    February 14, 2013 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  23. Ken Slater

    This old style of politics is of the past. The Republican Party is on it's way out and they can't blame anyone but themselves. They've been warned now the people are turning against them. The last time the Republican Party had anything going for them was during the Reagan years. After Reagan they didn't listen to him. He told them they were making mistakes, now it has ruined them. So Republicans go find that hole you've dug for yourselves and craw in.

    February 14, 2013 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  24. sue

    Republicans have become frothing ideological fanatics that would betray the nation rather than their own agenda.

    What a bunch of sick, disgusting wretches.

    February 14, 2013 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  25. ghostriter

    Republicans...playing roulette with an uzi........

    February 14, 2013 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
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