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. PA86

    Hey Harry Reid, do you think maybe now that you should take the action you said you would take if Senate filibusters still continue to be a problem and everything requires 60 votes? Fix these ridiculous rules and turn the Senate back into at least the functional state that it operated under in the past.

    February 14, 2013 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  2. MrLitho

    wow, my cat sits around all day and gets done more than congress... unreal

    February 14, 2013 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  3. Robin

    I am very disappointed that the filibuster rules have been changed ... I recall the days when a filibuster meant you had to actually stay on the floor a speak for hours, days...

    February 14, 2013 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  4. cal usa

    Given Chuck Hagel's perfomance on the battlefield, I seriously doubt that he will be intimidated by chickenhawks like Cruz and Graham, or by a senile bitter old man. By the way, how hard did these hypocrites push for financial disclosures from Romney, who was running to be the boss of the Secretary of Defense? You can be sure that Hagel went through a vetting process, with multiple tax returns and FBI checks that Romney would not have survived.

    February 14, 2013 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  5. Adam

    Republicans filibustering Republicans, now I've seen it all. What a horrible wasting of time and taxpayer $$$.
    Wow. Just, Wow.

    February 14, 2013 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  6. snowdogg

    GOP=the party of no, obstructionism, regressive thinking and reverse progress.

    February 14, 2013 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  7. cnow77

    If Obama doesn't nominate a Democrat for the position now he's an even bigger fool than I he looks like already for trying to appease these Republican babies.

    February 14, 2013 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  8. alain

    I'm so sick of Republicans.

    February 14, 2013 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  9. classybusiness

    With every passing day I lose more respect for the GOP. I used to consider myself "Republican" but they have revealed their true nature by going out of their way to damage America in the name of party politics (standing in the way of cabinet appointments, fighting health care reform, downgrading our credit rating, and, and, and...). Shame on them!

    February 14, 2013 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  10. jack

    What a butch of idiots and we pay them. We need to stop giving them money until they actual do some work.

    February 14, 2013 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  11. soldier first

    GOP what are these fools doing taking turns to see who's more stupider Senator Graham it over it please for your own sake.

    February 14, 2013 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  12. veggiedude

    Every time Obama likes a GOP position or person, the GOP has to hate it. That's how it was with the Affordable Health Care Act – created by Conservatives and endorsed by the GOP and hailed by Tea Party as a common sense approach, until Obama adopted it.

    February 14, 2013 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  13. Marc

    Can't wait to get rid of some Republican's in the next election. Understand this GOP, the majority of American's are getting tired of your obstruction.

    February 14, 2013 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  14. jrhodeisland

    American voters are WATCHING !!!! GOP is going to implode the 2016 election, one stupidity after another. If these guys actually worked for me they would now be collecting unemployment. Did the ignorant elect some of these Senators. Just list the states they come from, and you will know that answer. Hold your elected officials accountable to scrutiny or you will get crap in return.

    February 14, 2013 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  15. Nameless

    Honestly I have seen the Republicans block good ideas many times but I am happy they did this time because Sen. Hagel did not look ready for the job.

    February 14, 2013 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  16. Dave

    Wait!!! He's good enough for Iran and the Obama Administration? Not sure why any would be surprised the most partisan President of all time would select a SecDef the GOP finds objectionable.

    February 14, 2013 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  17. Mike Murphy

    I have no party affiliation. But I see some things in our future: 1. Democrats winning majority in BOTH branches of Congress in 2013. 2. Recession pt2 (not as bad) due to inactivity. 3. An (Iraq-style) invasion of North Korea in 2014. Bets anyone?

    February 14, 2013 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  18. San Diego 9326

    What happened to the GOP motto of not trying to look stupid?

    February 14, 2013 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  19. MrNeedtoKnow

    Papa said we should vote out all republicans once and for all. Yes, good one. We don't need no stinking balance we just need totalitarian liberals running our country. What a commie Papa has been thus far.

    February 14, 2013 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  20. bee

    What can be done to dismiss these misfits.. As the pres.said this evening, there is nothing in stone that states that 60 votes are necessary..Stay tune for the President to out smart the brain dead repugnant s again...

    February 14, 2013 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  21. Frank

    Did any of you "DEMOCRATES" watch the hearing with Hagel in front of Congress? If this guy was applying for a managerial job much less the "SECRETARY OF STATE" would any of you of hired him with that pathetic performance he gave? Wait! Dont answer that.

    A "DEMOCRAT" would hire him... If forgot.

    He didn't have a CLUE!

    February 14, 2013 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  22. Dave Long

    The Republican hatred of Obama knows no bounds, does it? They hid it behind disagreements on issues as long as they could, but no one buys it, anymore. Vote them out!

    February 14, 2013 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  23. Sadiq Khan

    Where were these Republicans when Bush gave Bin Laden family to fly out of the US when all Americans were grounded? I believe that Hagel is a true patriot American and represents only this country's interest.

    February 14, 2013 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  24. Angel

    No! No! No! Whahhhhhhhhhh

    February 14, 2013 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  25. Frank

    Did any of you "DEMOCRATS" watch the hearing with Hagel in front of Congress? If this guy was applying for a managerial job much less the "SECRETARY OF STATE" would any of you of hired him with that pathetic performance he gave? Wait! Dont answer that.

    A "DEMOCRAT" would hire him... If forgot.

    He didn't have a CLUE!

    February 14, 2013 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
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