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. Killbot

    Obama could nominate Dwight Eisenhower and the republicans would still filibuster his nomination, just so they can say, four years from now, "Look at how little this president has achieved!"

    February 14, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  2. steve

    Just one more example of the GOP stringing together unrelated issues in order to cobble together enough votes to be obstructionist. If "they" want it "we" don't. No original ides or thoughts wanted. I have a Republican congressman and 1 Republican Senator and I feel so cheated because neither of them can have an original thought, they just move to the drum beat of the Grand Obstructionist Party. I used to be a Republican.

    February 14, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  3. ellid

    This is political grandstanding at its worst. Shame on the Republicans.

    February 14, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  4. Maynard

    For gosh sakes. After the recess? What are we waiting on. We have a world on fire and no Pentagon leader, with Panetta heading for the door? Democracy cannot function when duly elected leaders and Congress cannot accept the will of the majority.

    February 14, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  5. The Real Tom Paine

    -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.
    Your explanation requires thought, which means you lost Wilson right away.

    February 14, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  6. critical thinking

    "This is the first time in the history of our country that a presidential nominee for secretary of defense has been filibustered," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday. "What a shame."

    This is the first time in U.S. history that the Senate has not passed a budget in 3 consecutive years, What a shame Senator Reid what a shame.

    February 14, 2013 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  7. Nini

    Iranโ€™s foreign minister will be so disappointed ................

    February 14, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  8. Lisa

    The GOP has not learned a thing by losing. They continue to defy and challenge the person we voted for. Screw them all! I am so sick and disgusted by them for what they have done to this country.

    February 14, 2013 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  9. Ricke1949

    Kerry was qualified and passed quickly even if many senators are on the other side of the aisle.
    This guy for defense refuses to release his speeches. No pass for him.

    February 14, 2013 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  10. spynnal

    Love the line "GOP likely to filibuster..." Media copied that in 2010, and have been pasting it everywhere since.

    February 14, 2013 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  11. David

    Please keep this up Republicans. I can smell 2016 already ๐Ÿ™‚

    February 14, 2013 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  12. Donnie Humfress

    If Ronald Reagan came back from the dead and President Obama nominated him Republicans would filibuster just because he was an Obama nominee. Look no further than the Republican party if you are looking for someone to blame for the recession in the first place and for it's slow recovery. Republicans used the filibuster more against Obama in his first term than was used against any two term president in history. It seems they are picking up right where they left off this term.

    February 14, 2013 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  13. Bruce Eder

    Apart from anything else, this proves that it is time to get rid of that doddering old idiot Harry Reid - he had his chance to reform the rules and prevent nonsense like this, and he blew it.

    February 14, 2013 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  14. TP from oakland..........

    Right now.....the fillibuster happy GOP in an Obama Presidential era would even fillibuster a roll of toilet paper before using the bathroom.

    February 14, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  15. Donnie Humfress

    @criticalthinking, And you really think the Republicans would pass a budget proposed by Democrats regardless of what was in it? Or do you think they just might filibuster? Hmmm, my money's on the filibuster...

    February 14, 2013 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  16. Name

    Its funny how the republicans are up in arms about 4 americans that day. What about the thousands that were killed under their watch sept 11 2001????????? Where is the disgust about that.

    February 14, 2013 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  17. Sane Person

    Here we go again. Repubs continuing to try to stifle any government process at all, so they can sit back and claim nothing gets done.

    February 14, 2013 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  18. jack wilson

    lets suppose that the bad guys were going to hit the embassy, and there were 3 guys who infiltrated the muslim brotherhood and had turned at least two guys in the lybian group that were ordered to attack the emdassy,it was hard enough paying the brotherhod guys to pass info, but to let on that the raid was not a big suprise would spill the beans on the 3 guys in the brotherhood`s inner circle,that option was a no go, the connection to the brotherhood is vital for the stability in the region including Isreal,perhaps the loss of life in bengasy is the penalty that we have to bare.

    February 14, 2013 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  19. K in Miami

    I can honestly say that todays Republican Party (Tea Party / w hite america) seems intent on wreeking havoc on Governance in this country.....

    These PETTY GAMES of a political nature is causing more harm to our country than any Al Queada or Taliban is capable of, and whats more dispicable about this event, is it stinks of Opposition to POTUS, truly sickening....!

    February 14, 2013 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  20. Peter Clarke

    Term limits, balanced budget, shoot the lobbyist's think about it !`

    February 14, 2013 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  21. Rudy NYC

    The Real Tom Paine wrote:

    Your explanation requires thought, which means you lost Wilson right away.
    Wilson needs help. Wilson thinks that when the president promises "such and such will not add to the deficit", he thinks it means he's lying when the overall debt still increases. But, hey. I'm a great teacher. I've done it for decades now.

    February 14, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  22. JohnReedjr

    Good thing we got filibuster rules changed, eh Harry. Take the nuclear option and send these double dealing backstabbing faux Republicans packing. They are unworthy of the name of the party of Lincoln

    February 14, 2013 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  23. Sam

    Thanks to Harry Reid and the Democrats allowing the filibuster to continue in the senate and not changing the rules. They have shot themselves in the foot again. When with the Democrats understand that Republicans are evil traitors to this nation. Republicans will block all nominations. They will continue to block the progress of Obama.

    February 14, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  24. scars

    Tel Aviv has given our Congress marching orders yet again and seems the GOP is all too ready to carry them out. For shame. Hagel's offense? Saying he was an American leader, not an Israeli one. Can't get too far in government if you don't grovel at Israel's feet.

    February 14, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  25. Wilson

    @Tom Paine, starting the insults early huh? By the way, lately you and a couple of others have said that since I finished just because I read "Atlas Shrugged," I believe in being selfish and greedy. 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. That is what I believe, so if that fits your definition of "selfish" and "greedy," then I am, and have no problem with being labeled as such.

    February 14, 2013 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
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