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. The Real Tom Paine

    Lets see, how well did the obstructionist tactics of the GOP work last time? Does Paul, Rubio, or any of the otherworhtless excuses for legislators the GOP has thrown at us really want to be blamed for the sequester kicking in, and damaging their greater ambitions? They must want to be blamed, since there is no other rational explanation. I guess the GOP is addicted to losing.

    February 14, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  2. Another Satisfied Democrat

    never mind his qualifications for the position; if only Hagel had agreed with McCain by agreeing that "the surge worked"......

    February 14, 2013 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  3. Sly

    Democrats are so uninformed about the facts.

    First, Obama is NOT President. He did not swear in on an American bible – he swore in on the Koran.
    Second, I have never seen his Birth Certificate. He is not President unless he proves to me he was born in America.
    Worse of all, there are growing rumors that Obama was NOT in Bengazi at the time. Come on, we need a President who is there defending our American citizens. Bush went to the Aircraft carrier.

    The White House is covering up that Obama was in America, not Libya, that day.

    Democrats just don't understand these simple facts, and Obama is not our President.

    I really really hope that's a troll. Because that's some funny stuff. If that isn't a troll, I weep for our future.
    Yes folks, I was just trying to pretend to get inside a Tea Party mind.

    The sad thing is that many folks thought I was serious – so yes, you might consider weeping for our future. (But not on my account ....)

    February 14, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  4. Rosslaw

    Every terrorist in the world knows they have friends with the republican party whose most profound wish is to have a domestic terrorist attack that kills thousands of Americans. The republicans are furious about Libya only because the campaign to get rid of Ghaddafi was so successful, did not cost a single American, cost less than one week of the Afghan War and worst of all, did not have contractors involved.

    February 14, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  5. Dr Matrix

    Freedom of religion also means freedon from religion. So forget swearing on the Bible, it is a book not the right arm of God. It has been edited and reinterprepted to fit the needs of organized religion over ther years and translations, so swearing on it has no real meaning except to the zealots.

    February 14, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  6. Anonymous

    Just more obstreporous, dilatory tactics by petulant Republicans. Hagel is a REPUBLICAN! Didn't they learn in the last election that Americans are tired of this impetuous behavior?

    February 14, 2013 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  7. jOE

    US servicemen and women die everyday(figuratively speaking) in Afghanistan, where are the GOP's anger and rage ? It's a shame we have to lose our people in hostile foreign lands, but to use it for political gains is truly shameful for the Republicans

    February 14, 2013 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    Since we hear so much about Libya I will clarify. Kadhafi in Libya used Golden Dinar for currency and wanted to be paid for oil in gold or euro and not in dollars. Also he happened to have a convenient base for African excursions so he was murdered using Al -Qaeda , a CIA false flag operation. Bengazi was also a false flag operation done by same people that did 9/11 to keep us terrorized and make Obama look bad. Now the base in Libya is being used to get better access to Mali. What is in Mali ? GOLD !

    February 14, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  9. Syvia Taylor

    The republicans prove to the american people each and every day that they are the stupid party. John McCain is a bitter old man. He needs to get over losing to President Obama. Lindsey Graham is simply performing for the tea party and cow towing to McCain whom he worships.

    February 14, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  10. larry5

    What's to decide. Obama picked him and that's the end of it. The confirmation process is just a charade. Ear plugs are recommended for those that attend.

    February 14, 2013 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  11. Mike from Seattle

    When it comes to not letting anything move in Congress, the GOP would be a #1 defense in the NFL.

    February 14, 2013 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  12. Rudy NYC

    Wilson wrote:

    "The problem is that Wilson apparently does not understand the fundamental difference between debt and deficit."
    To quote Hillary, "What difference does it make?" At this point both are equally damaging to the country. Yes, I do know the difference and my statement was accurate.
    No, you do not understand the difference at all. You can not add to the deficit, but still add to the debt. It's simple math.

    Deficit is the opposite of surplus. When the spending budget exceeds collected revenue, we experience a financial shortfall that is called a deficit. Revenues exceed spending then this is called a surplus. These figures are accounted for on an annual basis, which is called the debt. In other words, you can cut annual spending and still add to the debt. Likewise you can decrease net spending and still add to the debt, which is the scenario that Pres. Obama was describing.

    February 14, 2013 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  13. tony glendening

    The republicans and their Israeli lobby friends have no intention of dropping the filibuster, even as they say they will after recess. Every senator should be put in their seat and rither vote an up or down vote, if not make them filibuster for real right through the recess. Enough already! There will be a price to pay if they get away with this disgusting obstructionism.

    February 14, 2013 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  14. Another Satisfied Democrat

    @Ragin Cajun: methinks you make a false equivalent; both parties are not equally rabid...the repubs are foaming at the mouth while the dems are just salivating a bit....

    February 14, 2013 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  15. another democrat

    Thank goodness we didn't elect McCain! He used to be someone I respected, but not now. What a bitter hypocrite he has become, refusing to consider the deceptions that led us into a horrific war, destroying our reputation, wasting our wealth, and leading to the death, injury and lifelong damage to our own citizens and millions of Iraquis. How dare he target a man of peace?!

    February 14, 2013 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  16. Phil in KC

    Holding up Hagel's nomination over Benghazi is just wrong. The two are not directly related; Hagel was not involved and should not be held hostage over some letter. Even though I don't always agree with McCain, I usually respect him. But, on this one, he has lost my respect. He's just another politician with an axe to grind.

    February 14, 2013 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  17. tullymd

    Our country is in its death throes. A house divided. It was nice while it lasted.

    February 14, 2013 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  18. Too Funny

    Lets not forget that Hagel stated that the State Department is under the influence of Isreal....this guy clearly is a loose cannon who can't keep his mouth shut at the right times. Look for this nomination to fail.

    February 14, 2013 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  19. Pete

    Doesn't Graham,McCain know their republican party is setting records for fillibusters..Did you know since Pres.Obama was inaugerated the republicans in house have fillibustered over 375 bills,yes that many of them could have turned this nations economic problems around...But leave it to McCain,Graham and company that's done their fair share of obstructionism because its coming to a political head and their careers come midterms will feel the rath of the voter who's sick and tired of these extremists holding Americans hostage.Work with this president mine you that won this last election and by a fairly large amount and remember republicans your party could go the way of the dinosaur which is extinction,you don't want that because things would get done wouldn't it and you wouldn't be missed!!

    February 14, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  20. Peach

    This guy has NO business in the job--due to his stance on Israel.

    February 14, 2013 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  21. JohnK

    Their candidate once again fails to win the presidential race so the Party of No decides to continue their obstructionist tactics. Then we have to listen to them whine about how Obama isn't willing to work with them and its all his fault if the country suffers.

    The only reason these whiining little babies managed to keep control of the House in the recent election was because of blatant gerrymandering, and they lost votes in the Senate Looks like they didn't learn a thing.

    February 14, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  22. Keep Fear Alive

    I thought we never held a 60 vote threshold for Cabinet appointments EVER int he History of this country ... Oh that's right, we're talking about the New Brand of 9Racist ) Republicans that haven't gotten over the results of Obama's re-election .. why can't we execute politiicians when found guilty of American treason.... just wondering if they wil ever do whats right for the country instead of their racism ...

    February 14, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  23. ThinkAgain: All of the GOP's policies are PROVEN FAILURES

    "Filibusters of cabinet officials are extremely rare, largely because senators typically believe a president has a right to pick the leaders of his government."

    Yet another example of the GOP thwarting the will of the people.

    Vote all the Repubs OUT OF OFFICE in 2014.

    February 14, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  24. Strangways

    wow – the Republicans will even block another Republican. Who say's they're not the "party of 'No'?"

    February 14, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  25. ThinkAgain: All of the GOP's policies are PROVEN FAILURES

    McGrumpy just can't get over the fact that he and his party LOST THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION – TWICE!

    February 14, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
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