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. KeithM

    McCain all but admitted that this was revenge against Hagel for having the gall to criticize the Bush administration when he was a GOP Senator. How very childish. I actually expected better from John McCain. The GOP care more about retaliating over their hurt feelings than doing what's in the best interests of the country.

    February 15, 2013 07:20 am at 7:20 am |
  2. jdun

    Any way you can embarrass the president or attack his peace policy is ok with the right. Hagel will take office, the military will be downsized (I hope), and the US will work on the economy at home instead of fighting the rest of the world. How about an economic war fighting for the working class of America?

    February 15, 2013 07:22 am at 7:22 am |
  3. NavaJohn

    Hagel is a republican! This just proves once again that ANYTHING the democrats try to do, even putting a republican, one of their own into a top spot is met with obstructionism. The GOP needs to be trimmed big time next election. This is ridiculous!

    February 15, 2013 07:25 am at 7:25 am |
  4. Caron Speas

    The GOP is broken and dysfunctional. They keep shooting themselves in the foot. I wish they would just point their beloved guns to their heads before they pulled the trigger. They can't help themselves, though, because they don't even know what their problem is. Once they realize their own bigotry, the carnage that they have brought to Obama's administration - and hence to America - may finally end. But not everyone is graced with self-awareness and the GOP is least likely to become self-aware because they are emotionally and mentally still children - baby souls - and so they live in fear and self loathing. Its hard to become self-ware from that space.

    February 15, 2013 07:28 am at 7:28 am |
  5. Gurgyl

    GOP is bunch of garbage in USA.

    February 15, 2013 07:33 am at 7:33 am |
  6. J. Ferris

    Can someone please tell me why the Senate will be on vacation next week?????? Ridiculous!

    February 15, 2013 07:43 am at 7:43 am |

    2014 comes quickly for the unhinged GOBP tea potty.They never admit it,but Americans have had with their tricks that hurt the country.

    February 15, 2013 07:46 am at 7:46 am |
  8. michelle

    Politics at this point. I do like Senator McCain's replies and the way he comes across, better now than in any of the debates he was in. I could see him holding some appointed position for a short term. I certainly hope they get Mr. Hagel confirmed as soon as possible. I think he is an excellent choice overall. Im glad to see he appears to be holding steady, if looking at one photo can tell you that..!.. That will be an important quality in his position.

    February 15, 2013 07:48 am at 7:48 am |
  9. Dave shelly

    Just disgusting! Lindsay Graham and Jiohn McCain are a DISGRACE!!!!

    February 15, 2013 08:00 am at 8:00 am |
  10. Dave shelly

    So because he had his own opinon of GW and the surge he should be torpoedoed for Sec of Defense? WHatever happened to freedom of speech? This is just so disgraceful and disgusting. PLEASE AMERICA let's vote these dinosaurs OUT in 2014!!!

    February 15, 2013 08:03 am at 8:03 am |
  11. august43

    The Republicans are just seeking to score political points. In 1653 John Milton gave us the perfect word to describe what they are doing: pettifoggery.

    February 15, 2013 08:04 am at 8:04 am |
  12. adam

    of course he was to get blocked, its called the power of the israeli lobby. for some of our law makers, israel's interest is more important than the American interest, shame. What I think, no puplic office person should be a dual citizen.

    February 15, 2013 08:04 am at 8:04 am |
  13. corncop

    Classic Republican strategy! And Orrin Hatch gave the current status of the entire Republican party in Washington-Present (but unaccounted for)! And Hagel is a Republican for God's sake. Seems the leader of the pack is John McCain. Guess he is still bitter that he and Alaska's sweetie got their butts kicked a few years ago! Can't they do anything that will help move the country forward? Dumb question, it has already been answered!

    February 15, 2013 08:07 am at 8:07 am |
  14. NYVeteran

    Good stupid pet trick! This will make people want to vote for GOP candidates! Water anyone?

    February 15, 2013 08:09 am at 8:09 am |
  15. Malory Archer


    Gsgofer: the government only rules by majority when that majority falls in rethug favor. If it falls in dem favor then the neocons cry and screaming and have a tantrum like a bunch of 5 year olds. Double standard all the way.


    February 15, 2013 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  16. Benjamin

    The party of No once again rebuffed the Obama's candidate, proof of their hatred for a black President. This will have consequences in the future. If and when the GOP wins the presidency in the future, what will prevent the Democrats for filibustering and rejecting the GOP's candidates too? The worst thing is that Hagel is a former colleague of them but seemingly at odds because of his closeness with the Black President. I predict the GOP's will lose more positions next election for their bigotry and racist attitudes.

    February 15, 2013 08:16 am at 8:16 am |
  17. DL

    The GOP is waiting for Hagel to be approved by the Israeli lobby first

    February 15, 2013 08:16 am at 8:16 am |
  18. Clarke

    Surprise, surprise. Hagel told the truth and one he is being black balled.

    February 15, 2013 08:17 am at 8:17 am |
  19. greg

    Did you ever see a parent at the playground trying to teach their little spoiled brat how to share and he is throwing a fit. A future republicon

    February 15, 2013 08:17 am at 8:17 am |
  20. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Mike from the MIdwest:
    The GOP today is reprehensible! They are far from representing God or anything remotely Godly. They are akin to a bunch of rich and spoiled school kids who, when they don't get their way, gather their toys and take them home
    Well said Mike, great post.

    February 15, 2013 08:17 am at 8:17 am |
  21. bankrupt1

    I'd like to see someone with more of an industrial engineering background. i don't see the skill set that i think would be necessary for this job. Sorry. I like him, but I don't think he has what we need. I get why our government appears to be under-educated now. They are.

    February 15, 2013 08:18 am at 8:18 am |
  22. Floyd from Illinois

    One more example of Republicans acting in a manner intended to show only that they can be the biggest jerks around.

    February 15, 2013 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  23. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    The GOP has not lost it's mind. They fit the profile of domestic abusers, looking at their battered victim (that would be us, the country) and proclaiming: "I told you that if you did what you did (re-elect Obama) this would happen".
    Domestic abusers.

    February 15, 2013 08:30 am at 8:30 am |
  24. Rudy NYC

    Wilson wrote:

    ....Well, it depends on your definition of those two terms. I'll tell you what I believe. I believe I should be able to keep as much of what I work hard for as possible. I have no problem with SS and Medicare as those people are getting their own money back that they paid into the system. What I have a problem with is the people that are capable of working, but are choosing not to and collecting money from the government. In my mind those people are not worth the oxygen they are consuming. ....
    Everyone wants to keep as much of their hard earned money. But, everyone should pay their fair share. I find statement about "people capable of working" to be one that reflects a narrow view of the world. One where you say to yourself, "If I were in their shoes, then I would be working." Red states seem to suffer the most from this problem. Besides, people like Rand Paul would never hire any of "them" while criticizing them for not working.

    February 15, 2013 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  25. Malory Archer


    Hagel hates America's exceptionalism and the Jewish State of Israel. Seriously, Obama nominating this guy is a slap in the face to all for which the flag stands, as one nation UNDER GOD!


    Can you provide an example of Mr. Hagel's "hatred of America's exceptionalism"? No? Didn't think so.

    And since when has the Jewish State of Israel been part of the American nation UNDER GOD?

    February 15, 2013 08:34 am at 8:34 am |
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