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. DemFromSC

    If there are ANY moderate Republicans left, I hope that this fiasco will be the final nail in the coffin and that they will now join us Democrats, the only sane party and one that seriously wants to govern the country, not just play political games.

    February 14, 2013 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  2. James

    Thank you to the senators with the guts to stick to obummer. Senator Hagel is not qualified and should not be the defense secretary

    February 14, 2013 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  3. Jack

    The Republicans are doing it again; I am telling you this conservative that is 65 years old has at least 20 to 30 years of voting left in him is not going to put up with stupidity from the Limbaugh, Hannity lead Republicans. You are right Gov. Jindal, they are the party of stupid!

    February 14, 2013 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  4. Ryan

    Unbelievable! Please vote thes repug clowns out America. They are putting our National Interest in Jeporady!

    February 14, 2013 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  5. winchester74

    The GOP wants to cut Social Security to fund their "Bombs for Billionaires" program and Chuck Hagel wouldn't do it even though he's Republican.

    February 14, 2013 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  6. Glenn

    This proves that the Republicans are against the President on everything. They will go after their own, if it means holding up the President. The Republicans need to go.

    February 14, 2013 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  7. phearis

    Republicans are just doing what they do best ..... Nothing.

    February 14, 2013 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  8. Janis

    Just more game playing by the Greedy Obstructionist Party of America. They can't quit acting like two years old's throwing a fit, to save their own party. They never, and I repeat never, do anything that benefits the people they are suppose to represent.They can not seem to remember who they work for, and what their responsibilities are supposed to be. This is the reason they will not win again in 2014.

    February 14, 2013 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  9. eddhur

    they should have pick someone that was good for the job this man is no good

    February 14, 2013 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  10. GI Joe

    ............... but McSongbird wanted Hagel as his Sec. of State in 2008 - I'm convinced that Mc is senile. And a bitter sore loser - TWICE. ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

    February 14, 2013 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  11. winchester74

    harry reid should resign – he is another Neville Chamberlain

    February 14, 2013 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  12. Shirley Montague-Devine

    The Republicans have become treasonous in their hate for our President and our now destructive to our nation. It is time for all good people to fight against the 19th century Social Darwinism and Fascism of the Republican party. This vote has energized me to join the local Democrats in fighting every Republican in office in California, with my dollars, my time and my energy. The Racist Republican party is sick.

    February 14, 2013 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  13. Maria Rivera-Carvalho

    Thus Republicans continue their lemming like insane run into political exticntion.Good riddance.

    February 14, 2013 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  14. jpmichigan

    Many question still need to be answered regarding the murder of 4 Americans. The White House is hiding something/someone who told Ms. Rice what to say and when to say it. Hagel is out of touch , watched his hearing if you had you would have see it.

    February 14, 2013 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  15. djs

    If I were a Republican in Washington, I would be worried I would be the next target of my "fellow" members. The party will be extinct in a few years, so out of touch. In their war with Obama the man, American the nation is getting the shaft and we know it.

    February 14, 2013 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  16. Donnie Delay

    Thanks, GOP!! Now our dictionaries will have a perfect example under the definition of "political stunt."

    February 14, 2013 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  17. MaryM

    Absolutely disgusting GOP. VOTE these obstructionist out of office in 2014

    February 14, 2013 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  18. Gus

    Was Senator McCain brainwashed when the Vietnamese tortured him? Since President Obama took office, Senator McCain has done nothing constructive to this country. Senator McCain—like the rest of the republicans that blocked the nomination—has lost his sense of patriotism and honor for the office he holds. Republicans are doing nothing but just warming the seats they are sitting on while they see this country go in flames–just like the Roman emperor Nero.

    February 14, 2013 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  19. SokrMom

    You would think Republican Congressmen would be interested in taking up ways to juice the economy, or reduce dependence on foreign oil, or any one of a number of other real issues we could use their help on. But no, they are keeping a laser focus on preventing the President from appointing the Republican of his choice to head the defense department. Go figure!

    February 14, 2013 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  20. Steve - Texas

    Shameful .. The Senate needs to go nuclear.. Drop the filibuster. Go back to the 51% vote. Republicans have shown time and time again these last couple years they are more interested in Politics than the Country. Terrorists that need arrested and Quartered.

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

    The GOP has hit a new low...once touted as the possible Sec of Defense if there was a President McCain is now fillibustered by John. John...you are such a small insignificant man...you can't stand it can you. Let's talk about who was at fault with 9/11...Condeleza, George or Dick...they had the warnings! Benghazi is small compared to that and yet Condeleeza got a vote and was Sec of State. The GOP is the Geezer Old Party...nothing grand about them.

    February 14, 2013 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  22. Emilio Dumphque

    They're making too much money from defense contractors. In essence, industry is running the government: the very definition of Fascism.

    February 14, 2013 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  23. actorvist

    Okay, since conservative Republicans aren't good enough for the GOP, maybe now the President can nominate a progressive.

    February 14, 2013 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  24. Florida Joe

    One more reason to be sure to go to the polls in 2014 and vote these obstructionists OUT...........

    February 14, 2013 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  25. Lou50

    Gee get a more better qualified candidate. The Congress system is working. But you could change the rules that say you only need one yes vote by a Democrat to approve a Democrat desired candidate but 102% of the votes for a Republican one.

    February 14, 2013 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
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