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. quinLee

    at some point we ALL should look inward and ask, " Why do we keep voting these useless self-centered folks into office". For those that are capable, it's time to become a smarter more informed voter and take RESPONSIBILITY.

    February 15, 2013 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  2. Mike

    The GOP couln't make themselves look any worse if they consciously tried to.

    February 15, 2013 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  3. Jc

    It's funny how CNN painted this and liberals are eating it up. Buried deep in the story is the truth of the matter. It's not that the GOP is blocking the nomination, they are simply waiting for questions to be answered. mcCain even said that he would vote to confirm as soon as the recess is over, but they need to see Hagel's finances by then. Obama has a history of nominating ppl who are not exactly qualified. You blast the GOP for being cautious, yet you give liberals a pass for blindly accepting everything that comes out of the Oval Office.

    February 15, 2013 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  4. Doug from Seattle

    And the clown show continues!

    Why do I feel like I'm on an ill-fated cruise ship?

    February 15, 2013 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  5. g

    Isreal,s lobbyist said he,s not our guy,he,s not on our list

    February 15, 2013 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  6. rs

    Republicans have, in a fairly unbelieveable move, have abdicated any legitimacy they have to govern.
    1. The nation is still at war (A Republican started war), with no Secretary of Defense.
    2. NATO meeting next week. The U.S. send whom?
    3. The Republicans are taking a 10 day "break" (and they weep over every golf game Mr. Obama takes!).
    Enough is enough! GOP- you so very badkly want to lead! You should bloody well act like or resign!

    February 15, 2013 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  7. Anonymous

    Republican Stall the economy recovery – That shoudl be the headline here !!!

    February 15, 2013 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  8. quelee

    I will be voting to change the existing House of Representatives. They are blackmailing the President and we are the ones caught in the middle. Every President has the RIGHT to pick his own cabinet! Shame on Lindsay Graham, John McCain and all the others. I hope this reflects upon you when you're up for re-election and everyone remembers just how much of an obstructionist you each have become. Since Obama has been President these guys have done everything in their power to vote against anything he tries to do. Mitch McConnell once said (in 2008) that they would do everything to make Obama a one-term President. Well, guess what! He is now a two-term President so get over it and work with him.

    February 15, 2013 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  9. brad

    What the Repub's don't understand is by Filibustering Presidential appointed Cabinet Members they open the door to this happening to them (If they ever get the White House back)
    Lidsay Graham is a publicity hog and even isnt smart enough to realize the ramifications of his actions and the ongoing signals from the republicans sent around the World that they are spiteful crying little babies!

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

    Insane Hypocrisy by Republicans. They should all get a boot in the bum.

    February 15, 2013 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  11. Rosslaw

    The Republican party has morphed from a lobbying group for their fund raisers with the facade of a failed political philosophy to a national security threat actively seeking to hurt thiis country.

    February 15, 2013 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  12. facepalm

    Spineless Reid needs to admit the republiturds are off the deep end, and change the filibuster rules like he promised he would do the LAST time he screwed up by not reforming the rules.

    February 15, 2013 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  13. Blue Dog

    Israeli lobby influence at full display.

    February 15, 2013 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  14. Blue Dog

    Is Mccain still smitten by Hagel's support for Obama? Payback time, huh? Glad I didn't vote for Mccain. What a spiteful character.

    February 15, 2013 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  15. Rudy NYC

    I would like to thank Sen. Harry Reid for demonstrating his long term vision by not seeking a short term solution to the filibuster. In fact, I like his short term solution, too. He has provided the Republicans with the opportunity, the means, and the motive to move their party into the dust bin of history.

    February 15, 2013 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  16. fayray11

    and the GOP shows once again that they are the party of NO. soon they will be the relic party

    February 15, 2013 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  17. rs

    I once was a Republican, of late (since 1990), I have supported more and more Democrats as the Republicans seemed to veer further and further rightward. After today, I WILL NEVER vote Republican again. I am ashamed that I ever thought these people were responsible or authentic.
    Republicans today are brain-addled fools who are only interested in destruction, not sound governance.

    February 15, 2013 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  18. Ricke1949

    Hagel is very anti-Isreal. They are the only real democracy in the middle east. He is pro Iran. This is a set up for disaster.

    February 15, 2013 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  19. Matt in KY

    I am beginning to believe that McCain an Graham actually plan on merging the party into the Dems. It is the only logical reason they could act with such brazen stupidity. Let me release my polling numbers. Every single military officer I spoke with likes Hagel. Every single American I spoke with thinks Hagel should get a shot (Repubs and Dems). This isolation of a few Repubs with the Israeli lobby will not soon be forgotten. It isn't Dems trying to "annihilate" the Repubs....it's the repub leadership throwing themselves off the 'stupid politics' cliff. I suggest dropping by Karl Rove's American Crossroads FB page and seeing for yourself how few people 'like' his concepts. Furthermore, read the comments. Time for all these dudes to give it up. #selfishlyruiningtheparty

    February 15, 2013 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  20. Thomas

    Israeli lobby influence , US of Israel .

    February 15, 2013 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  21. Douglas Reed

    Of course, Congress will attempt to block the nomination of ANYONE for any official post who refuses to follow the AIPAC agenda. It's called apparently, American democracy. Put another way, it's Government of the people, by AIPAC, for Israel. It's a new version of democracy whereby virtually no one benefits other than a minority pressure group. Maybe call it 'aipacracy'.

    February 15, 2013 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  22. Francisco Islas

    That's the ticket! This is like a football game; the more we tie up the legislative process, the less likelyhood that Obama's anti- american agenda will get enacted. We can literally run out the clock! God bless our Nation and God save the Bill of Rights from the power hungry king Obama.

    February 15, 2013 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  23. steven

    Jc.....I'm afraid your on the wrong side of this issue. This is like your child saying they won't do their homework until you give them XXX.
    They are doing damage to the country, the citizens and themselves. Most importantly, to themselves.

    February 15, 2013 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  24. rs

    It's funny how CNN painted this and liberals are eating it up. Buried deep in the story is the truth of the matter. It's not that the GOP is blocking the nomination, they are simply waiting for questions to be answered.
    Questions about what exactly? They can't say. Theyve had at least 3 Senate Hearings. Why didn't they ask them then? Meanwhile genius, explain this: What was Hagel's role in Benghazi? Yup, none.
    Now the GOP is floating another FOX-lie that Hagel took money from the Palestinians- no proof, no facts, not even inuendo- just lies.
    What you don't seem to get is Republicans are crazy- and worse, they think thats cool. Insanity justifies obstruction.
    My friend, we're at war. No Secretary of Defense because GOPpers play games. That is called TREASON.

    February 15, 2013 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  25. ChrisG

    Why did McCain praise Hagel and defend him against McCarthey Cruz and then vote to filibuster Hagel. What a hypocrite Mc Cain has become

    February 15, 2013 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
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