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. Mark in Atlanta

    Disgusting. But, Reid should have taken action to change the rules when he had the chance.

    February 14, 2013 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  2. Matthew

    Anyone who is anti-Israel like Hagel should be blocked. Secondly, it always makes me very happy when Obama doesn't get his way. Happy Valentine's Day, USA!

    February 14, 2013 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  3. yourmom

    So Hagel thinks needlessly sending our service men and women off to war is a bad thing and the GOP doesn't like him?

    February 14, 2013 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  4. Lynne Buchanan

    I find it interesting that when there's an opposing view, it is either racist or obstructionist. So what good is it to have THREE branches of government that will balance and check one another if everyone is expected to just give up THE OTHER HALF OF THE COUNTRY'S POINT OF VIEW in order to placate the Executive Branch? The objections to confirming Hagel are serious and logical objections; READ them. You will not find anything racist, but you will find that not everyone feels obligated to agree with the President in order to feel good about themselves.

    February 14, 2013 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  5. matt

    Not once in this article is it stated that Harry Reid led the filibuster charge in 07 against Bush's nomination of Bolton. Very hypocritical of him and his buddies.

    February 14, 2013 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  6. Belseth

    Republicans block a nomination by a Democratic President and this is news? They could have printed this story yesterday without even being psychic. I just want to know when they all pass out from holding their breath until they get their way. Five year olds fighting over the last scoop of ice cream show more maturity than Republicans in Congress!

    February 14, 2013 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  7. Kathy nurse

    Lindsey Graham and John McCain need to GOOOOOOO big time..... Republicans wake up you are not with the people of the united states.. You are soooooo out of the mainstreem just like fox!!!

    February 14, 2013 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  8. Mandor

    stare them down. Keep bringing him back up, again and again and again, every day, and keep them there for 96 hours straight if necessary. Enough with filibusters where they just have to express an *intent* to filibuster. If they want to seriously block it, they should have remain awake for 96 hours straight, talking the whole time.

    February 14, 2013 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  9. Bill

    This proves it, even Republicans now understand that Republicans aren't qualified for positions like this....

    February 14, 2013 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  10. Max Biden

    It's really simple and shows who's really in charge of those clowns in Congress: Netenyahu & the AIPAC don't approve, but Zionists don't control America, that's just a conspiracy theory and you'll be labeled as an anti-semite and your character will be assassinated if you say otherwise by the non-Zionist controlled media. Disgusting.

    February 14, 2013 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  11. steven

    So much for the "NEW" GOP.

    February 14, 2013 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  12. Sebarpin

    My god, USA is a sick country!!! Hagel have NOTHING to do with Benghazi. Really no wonder this country is going down when a President can't govern. I'm so happy not leaving into this sick country.

    February 14, 2013 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  13. BlueAlliance

    This is how the GOP stays in control of the Obama presidency!! They did it for four years and will now continue for another four. They obviously don't trust the American people's choice for president and have chosen to keep tabs on everything he tries to do. It's a racial thing, this 'food stamp, lazy president' can't be trusted to run the country without their approval, afterall they are the superior party!
    Please let the truth be posted.

    February 14, 2013 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  14. LWJR

    Obama is the worst President we have had since Carter. If Hillary is elected behind him, this country will have completely disintegrated. Hagel is an anti-semite who doesn't even deserve a shot at public office, let alone Sec of Defense.

    February 14, 2013 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  15. Old Dog

    GOP favorable rating nearing single digits. More of this kind of crap and their rating will be looking up at zero. Plus, they are planning to leave to take vacation. Hey, nothing of any significance on the agenda. Take the year off!!! Kind of like you've done for the past 4 years. Just calling in from time to time to declare a filibuster.

    Another year and a half and we can vote more of them out of office.

    February 14, 2013 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  16. krehator

    Congress is a joke. Let's start over.

    February 14, 2013 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  17. second grade citizen

    any normal person is not acceptable for republicans.

    February 14, 2013 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  18. marty

    I thank the obstructionist Republicans for teaching me the meaning of 'Ugly Amerian' by their word and (mis)deed.

    February 14, 2013 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  19. Mark C. Williams

    Suddenly all questions have been anwered for McCain. He couldn't say this a few weeks ago as he spat fire at the Hillary Clinton hearing and the lead up to this. All that expressed anger for show, I guuess. The Dems will admit there were security lapses at Benghazi if the Repubs. will admit there were security lapses in the 3 months before 9/11. Remember that infamous Rice memo?

    February 14, 2013 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  20. Joe Clark

    Our political situation is so bizarre. And we wonder why the economy is suffering as much as it is. We watch these crazy soap operas being played out now in Congress over Chuck Hagel's nomination and we quickly realize why millions of Americans are out of work and suffering from so many economic calamities. We have to many unqualified republicans in office that are not qualified to clean toilets let alone make decisions on behalf of the American people. John McCain appears to be senile. Lindsey Graham is desperately attempting to stay in the spot light, any spot light, and Kelly Ayotte is trying to rebuild her reputation after a jaded reputation as Attorney General in New Hampshire. Until such people are removed from office the trials and tribulations of the nation will continue without letup.

    February 14, 2013 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  21. DN3

    Reminiscent of the film 'Lincoln'. They need 60 votes, they get 58 and two don't show up? Hmmm...

    February 14, 2013 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  22. Jason

    Reid is a sore loser and until the democrats remove IT I see no sense voting for them again.

    February 14, 2013 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  23. us_1776

    2014 cannot get here fast enough.

    GOP, you're gone.


    February 14, 2013 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  24. Braden

    On October 23, 1987, the Senate denied Robert Bork confirmation, with 42 Senators voting in favor and 58 voting against.

    February 14, 2013 06:45 pm at 6:45 pm |
  25. RLR

    I'm not surprised, and you shouldn't be surprised either. They just can't stand the fact that the country elected a man of color to the White House. The whole world can see how some caucasian Americans have shown how racist they are. It's a shame how this president has been treated since taking office. Obama won't be the last man of color elected to the White House. In the future there will be Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans elected as President. The white man is afraid he is losing power in this country and he can see the writing on the wall. Too bad, your days are numbered.

    February 14, 2013 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
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