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. Gator

    It is vexing why the Senate continue to engage in the foolish practice of requiring a 60 vote majority. With the exception of a few specific items, the constitution doesn't call for it and relies on majority vote. Perhaps more would get done if the Senate simply went back to a 51 vote majority vote and not let a handful of rogue senators run the show.

    February 15, 2013 08:34 am at 8:34 am |
  2. Moonraker

    This is why people despise the GOP. It's a group of bloated, angry white men who will automatically disagree with anyone Obama chooses for a position. It's amazing to me that they refuse to change their obstructionistic ways given that Obama won in a landslide last November. The Tea Party has really infected the GOP like a cancer.

    February 15, 2013 08:38 am at 8:38 am |
  3. Malory Archer


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


    Apples and oranges Branden. Mr. Hagel was nominated to a cabinet appointment which is a TEMPORARY position that changes with each Administration. bork was nominated to a LIFETIME appointment to the highest office in the land. Your comparison is what is commonly referred to as a false equivelency.

    February 15, 2013 08:38 am at 8:38 am |
  4. Penarrow

    Can the GOP be held accountable for reckless endangerment of U.S security, reckless endangerment of the U.S. economy, reckless endangerment of our environment? This has gone on long enough. Especially McCann and Graham their vanity seems more to them than the security of our country, our economy or our enviroment.

    February 15, 2013 08:44 am at 8:44 am |
  5. mike Lake Orion Michigan

    Didn't Harry Reid and Carl Levin block President Bush's nomination of John Tower in 1989? Harry Reid is one of two things: he's either a hypocrite or has a terrible memory! Hagel would be a disaster as Secretary of Defense.

    February 15, 2013 08:44 am at 8:44 am |
  6. BG

    What is difficult to explain to our allies? We are a leaderless organization with no hope of getting a leader in the White House for another four years. Of course obozo would nominate this clown, he has teh same leadership ability as obozo......zip

    February 15, 2013 08:44 am at 8:44 am |
  7. Peter

    So exactly when are we going to get to the bottom of the intelligence failure that led to the invasion of Iraq and search for WMD that left over 4000 American lives and over 100,000 Iraqi lives lost? Lindsey? John?

    February 15, 2013 08:46 am at 8:46 am |
  8. BigD

    GOP is all no and too slow and it is past time for them to go. Make gerrymandering illegal!

    February 15, 2013 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  9. jason d morris

    It's time to start calling the Republicans' behavior what it is – TREASON. The dictionary defines treason as the betrayal of a trust. I can't think of another term for the behavior they have exhibited for the last few years. It is a betrayal of America's trust to do what you want, and not what's good for the country. Europe is back in a recession because they reduced their deficits too quickly without additional revenue. Sound familiar? If we do what the Repubs want, we'll wind up in the same place, and make no mistake, THAT'S WHAT THEY WANT.

    February 15, 2013 08:50 am at 8:50 am |
  10. Calcommuter

    Knowing full well that the Republicans will vote Hagel in the next count, they stalled his initial nomination. So for absolutely no reason except to prove a point that they are absolutely worthless and out of touch. this was a total waste of taxpayer money, again. Nice going Reps. Enjoy losing more seats in the next election.

    February 15, 2013 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  11. oldbones24

    The privileged GOP don't have to listen to the peons that voted for the Dems. Just remember, what goes around comes around.

    February 15, 2013 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  12. Ralph

    It is a sad day when elected officials put politics above the good of the country! Ideally when the election is over the politician would change into a statesman and from that day forward dedicate his efforts to improving this country which we love and believe to be the best country on the planet.

    February 15, 2013 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  13. The Right Left

    The GOP is trashing this soldier who volunteered when others were running to France, Canada or like Cheney and Limbuagh were getting preferentail deferment. He is independent minded and a true patriot. He kept Unuted States interest paramount, instead the NEO CONS and their love child, ISRAEL. The rightwing dont like him because he cannot be bought and speaks his mind, something that John McCain once did but later sold his soul to the Cons.
    Shame on these people for going after a patriot who does not accept AIPAC's tainted money.

    February 15, 2013 08:57 am at 8:57 am |
  14. yem

    To the three GOP senior senators: You are hurting the country by delaying the voting process. Not obama, not Hagel but the country.

    February 15, 2013 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  15. Malory Archer


    Give it a rest, the democrats are every bit as bad as the republicans, you just won't admit it.


    Care to provide some CREDIBLE examples – and FYI: the bork example is a false equivelency so you'll have to do better than that.

    February 15, 2013 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  16. Pete

    Republicans setting the car for stupidity now fillibustering over 375 bills and rising after Hagels turndown yesterday..Republicans do eat their own don't they showing blantantly just how they hate anything Pres.Obama or democrates do to help America going as far as turning against one of their own partys collegues.How pathedic ,but its republicans you'll get what they deserve at midterms won't they or are they that arrogent they think people haven't noticed their obstructionism...Just wait McCain,Graham,Boehner and McConnell your wakeup call is coming and at that stage you'll be shown the door won't yah,don't say we didn't warn you!!

    February 15, 2013 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  17. larry simpson

    now if only they could sequester Obama himself

    February 15, 2013 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  18. MaryM

    So Hagel will be confirmed before the end of February. Never before, in the history of the country, has a Secretary of Defense appointment been filibustered. Never before have those same people who have filibustered the appointment come out and tried to spew blatant excuses for their stupid actions (obviously because this is the first time it has happened but they stand by it). McCain. Not two days ago was rushing to defend Hagel from McCarthy Cruz, yesterday he was lashing out against him. 2014 cant get here fast enough to vote these republicans out of office

    February 15, 2013 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  19. Malory Archer

    They COULDN'T hold up Senator Kerry's nomination because America is already wise their swiftboating lies from 2004.

    February 15, 2013 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  20. Malory Archer


    The GOP finally shows some backbone. About time. The four RINOs that sided with the Democrats need to be replaced with conservatives that will actually stand up for an ideology that presents the American people with an alternative to the far left lunacy promoted by the Democrats.


    Yeah, except a clear majorty side with the Dems.

    February 15, 2013 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  21. gladiatorgrl

    They are an EMBARRASSMENT!! Iran, Korea, China are now well aware of how dysfunctional American politics are and they will take advantage. These guys are bordering on TREASON!!!

    February 15, 2013 09:12 am at 9:12 am |
  22. CJPA

    I am speechless - it's bad enough that John McCain and his robots, headed by Lindsey Graham, hid behind Bengazi as a reason not to confirm Chuck Hagel, but now McCain comes out with the truth - that he's holding a grudge from 7 years ago when Hagel said "W" was the worst president in history and he was against McCain's "surge." Turns out Hagel was right, and McCain should be embarrassed to admit what a petty, vindictive little old man he has become!! I suggested after he lost the Presidential election he retire to his beloved desert, but now it's imperative that he do so - and quickly before he does any more damage! Ugh!!

    February 15, 2013 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  23. bankrupt1

    if they don't like him, he's probably good though.

    February 15, 2013 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  24. Publius Novus

    This is extraordinary, even for the current crop of Republicans. Now the Republicans will not confirm a former U.S. Senator, and a Republican to boot. Why won't they confirm him? Because he was nominated by President Obama.

    February 15, 2013 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  25. SokrMom

    More time-wasting from the Party of "No."

    February 15, 2013 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
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