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. CG

    "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." We just wanted to waste more of everyone's time and get paid for doing nothing, as we have for the past 4 years.

    February 14, 2013 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  2. John

    makes you wonder about the assertion that the pro-israeli lobby group intimidates the GOP. Hagel is a man of integrity and cannot be intimidated and they don't like that. this is all amazing. the GOP, elected by the people, but owned by the special interest groups.

    February 14, 2013 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  3. peckbag

    Republicans would block the sun coming up tomorrow if they could.

    February 14, 2013 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  4. Charlie

    Republican obstructionism is beginning to resemble treason. They are willing to put our country in jeopardy because they can't accept a black man as president.

    February 14, 2013 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  5. Paladin Knight

    As the Republicans begin this new term, they have swung at this pitch and whiffed hugely!! Strike One against the GOP for the 2014 midterm elections as they continue what many feel in this country as being highly obstructionistic and being the party of "NO!!" This country wants Congress to work together, not act like a bunch of selfish crybabies like they continue to do so on a regular basis in the public's eye.

    February 14, 2013 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  6. FishingGuy72

    Your government has turned into a complete farce. It's like watching school children fight over the same toy. In the end, nobody wins and everyone's feelings are hurt.

    February 14, 2013 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  7. ptw

    Gee, who could have thought that the tepid "Filibuster Reform" done just last month would end up with the Republicans abusing the Filibuster again? How about: EVERYBODY.

    February 14, 2013 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  8. Jonquil

    My very conservative family members in Texas can't wait to stick it to the Republicans they voted for, in 2014. Start writing your requiem now, GOP. This is beyond outrageous.

    February 14, 2013 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  9. S. Marchio

    The party of NO fails again!

    February 14, 2013 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  10. Bob

    And here come the democrats on CNN crying like the even know what goes on behind closed doors. Judging pointing, fingers... blame the GOP. Democrats are so lame.

    February 14, 2013 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  11. Hows_That_Change_Working_For_Ya

    Common people,,, Hagel is just another puppet of OVomits. Wake Up you hand wringing Liberals before our Moron President flushes this country down the toilet !

    February 14, 2013 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  12. Rick

    Seems funny to me the same party that's worried about Hagel's finances are the very ones who put a presidential candidate up who tried to hide HIS finances. Same old bunch of hypocrites. When is this country going to get tired of this bunch?

    February 14, 2013 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  13. john oval

    quote: "Filibusters of cabinet officials are extremely rare, largely because senators typically believe a president has a right to pick the leaders of his government."

    When did it become "his government" ?

    February 14, 2013 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  14. Jason

    vote all the weak kneed dems out we don't need the Hairy reid types to represent us. Atleast Boehner has some spine

    February 14, 2013 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  15. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

    Oh, Republicans–what on earth do you think you're doing to what was always my party?
    You've gone crazy.
    You are destroying the Republican Party.

    February 14, 2013 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  16. Lct1119

    Plu-eeeeez. The refund are just showing their spots..... As contrary, revengeful, arrogant, mean spirited people who will stoop to nothing to block any progress. Maybe they will sign up their sons and daughters for military service as most of them are draft dodgers. What hypocrites. And the great unwashed masses have taken notice. And vote.

    February 14, 2013 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  17. Helena Montana


    February 14, 2013 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  18. EyeForEyeNOT

    Classic backstabbing, shows how low the GOP can stoop..

    February 14, 2013 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  19. Eli Cabelly

    I can't remember any time a presidential nominee has been filibustered. It's been voted down, but never filibustered. This is absolutely ridiculous.

    This will teach the Democrats to play nice with the Republicans.

    February 14, 2013 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  20. smithdp

    Wow, McCain and Graham, just some bitter old men. The perfect symbols for your GOP.

    February 14, 2013 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  21. CAWinMD

    It's this kind of juvenile BS that prevents Obama from taking Republicans seriously. This week of recess isn't going to turn up any further information that would make a bit of difference on the voting. This was done purely out of spite for Obama. And Republicans wonder why this term he has decided not to negotiate with them. Unreal.

    February 14, 2013 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  22. Dude in Colorado

    Wow, I guess Republicans really are devoted sportsmen! They'll hold up a cabinet posting just so they can have their fishing expedition!!

    February 14, 2013 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  23. Ucanbillme

    Isn't Hagel a republican himself? I just don't get it: Are the republicans (and democrats) in congress so rich that they can afford to sit around and do nothing while the rest of us are scraping the bottom? Do they and their backers have so much invested in the status quo that they don't want to have any change??? What do they do w/ their time other than appease the few that gave them the money to stay in office?

    February 14, 2013 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  24. john oval

    Clinton M

    Maybe they just don't like this "black president ".

    February 14, 2013 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  25. Phattee

    I've never liked the GOP, but I preferred when it was an actual political party instead of the cartoonish self-parody it is today.

    February 14, 2013 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
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