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. Adam Hall

    Hagel , a decorated vet and Republican gets a filibuster because he thinks the military should be smaller. The Republicans are in the pocket of military contractors who are in the business of making sure America is constantly at war with someone. They profit while brave Americans die.

    February 14, 2013 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  2. Rembrant

    Repubs will stop at nothing to keep this country from moving forward. A disgrace to the world.

    February 14, 2013 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  3. AtlJack

    Why weren't the Republicans as worried about how Romney made his money as they now are about Hagel?

    Romney only showed TWO years of tax returns but Republicans say that's ok.
    We know how Hagel made money for all but two years and Republicans say that's not ok.

    Can you say hypocritical Mr Rogers?

    February 14, 2013 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  4. Donnie the Lion

    Republicans blocking a Republican Secretary!

    February 14, 2013 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  5. Jeff

    I'm afraid this government won't have a chance to work until enough republicans are voted out to give the party the super majority.The people want a senate aand house that can get something done.

    February 14, 2013 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  6. Unreal

    And the GOP wonder why people say they are out of touch. Keep it up and it'll take another 25 years before they win another presidential election.

    February 14, 2013 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  7. Vet

    The article states::

    “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”


    If Benghazi and the State Department handling of it was the issue, it would have been directed at Senator Kerry when he was the nominee for heading the State Department.

    February 14, 2013 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  8. AnnieM

    The Republicans won't let anyone in who isn't bought and paid for by the defense contractors. Also no one who was once a regular soldier and cares more about them than paying the contractors billions of unnecessary taxpayer dollars. The Right is SO wrong...

    February 14, 2013 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  9. PhillyBuster

    Well what else do you expect from a party whose primary goal is to obstruct the other party. No creativity whatsoever–just say no.

    February 14, 2013 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  10. Pheziwig

    If you interfere with the President's choice of Cabinet members, be prepared to share the responsibility for the actions of whoever finally winds up in that position.

    February 14, 2013 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  11. Jimh77

    Our Lovely GOP, the 40 of NO. You all will MOT be elected to move forward. Your career as a politician is over.

    February 14, 2013 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  12. socalgal

    Message to H Reid: You can make the DC climate improve immediately by removing yourself.

    February 14, 2013 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  13. pat from central oregon

    Fire every Republican in the Senate and House...bunch of losers. All the Republicons want to do is to get a chicken hawk guy in there, who wants to bomb everything (no dialogue required), and they want to keep Obama from getting anything at all done. It's all about politics and about obstructing Obama, who just happens to be black.

    Freaking bunch of angry white men, the GOP.

    February 14, 2013 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  14. IvotedforObama

    and they prove how racist they are again. If Mittens won and had nominated this guy they would have been all for it.

    February 14, 2013 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  15. Salmonrme

    Hope this wakes all the armed forces current and former members how Graham and McCain treat there own Hagel is more a hero during Vietnam then McCain and Graham ( lawyer) ever dreamed to be Please Vote the republicans out of office they don't support the true Vets as they think you just take from the Gov after you protected the Home land

    February 14, 2013 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  16. NN

    These Republicans need to go. I think everyone is just about fed up with them.

    February 14, 2013 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  17. RealTeaMan

    GOP, the stupid party...

    For heavens sake... What a bunch of idiots. People, it is now clear that these tea party numbskulls don't respond to reason. The only thing they understand is sending them home to their bunkers and AR15 rifles.

    2014 is coming, and will be your chance to vote more of the the idiots out of the senate and house so we can get to compromise (like we have for over 200 years) and get on with the business of running our country.

    February 14, 2013 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  18. Mona

    Graham is a very very small man! In fact, the entire republican congress are very very small men. They don't give
    a crap about the American people, just trouble that they can constantly instigate. But ya know what, "what goes
    around, comes around"! You will pay for your indescretions and I for one, can hardly wait!

    February 14, 2013 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  19. westsacvoice

    Let them filibuster and waste their energy talking and publicize to the people what they have to say. Let's see if they get any votes on the next election.

    February 14, 2013 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  20. beezers

    The White House's response is that it "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."

    What signal exactly, other than: Yeah, we're taking it very seriously who we appoint as your leader. We want to make sure you're in good hands.

    What a horrible signal to send. It's a filibuster, people! It's used to give added time to find out more information before voting up or down. Would we rather have Congress act without thinking (Lord knows they already have a limited capacity for thought)?

    February 14, 2013 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  21. Richard

    I know that Jesus Christ is coming back to Jerusalem and that's why the Repubs want to protect it, but the idea of them getting upset at some remark about gays is...unrealistic. I see AIPAC's hand in this.

    February 14, 2013 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  22. Morvin

    Republicans... never have so few done so little and made so much while screwing so many.

    February 14, 2013 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  23. patrice

    Shame on the GOP. Vengeance is more important than running the country like responsible adults. Can we fire these people? Please?

    February 14, 2013 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  24. dave

    republican --–goverment by filibuster! what a jok they are.

    February 14, 2013 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  25. allens

    the republicans are politicians not patriots

    February 14, 2013 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
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