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. John

    Which is absolutely nothing more than what the GOP has been doing since President Obama was elected to office. They blockade everything being done until their ransom demands are met, in this case top security information regarding the Benghazi attack.

    My wife and I left the GOP after more than 35 years. We won't support the fundamentalist subversive acts of the GOP against the president and this nation as well. The GOP will continue to fail until it rids itself of the influence by evangelicals.

    February 14, 2013 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  2. Hud

    They wanted hagel to lie.

    February 14, 2013 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  3. Pam

    Continue with the filibuster-it sends a good message to our military-that we will not leave them unprotected if they are under attack-and that anyone who ignores them while they are under attack to go off and campaign-has to answer for it.

    February 14, 2013 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  4. MaryM

    Well, they could not break the GOP filibuster. This filibuster is just sickening. Americans, Please vote these republican obstructionist out of office in 2014.

    February 14, 2013 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  5. mtbeau

    Stopping the approval of a Secretary of State during time of War.

    February 14, 2013 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  6. mtbeau

    Sorry, Stopping the approval of a Secretary of Defense during time of War.

    February 14, 2013 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  7. Rick K

    Why do they even call it a filibuster?
    It is blatant obstructionism that should have never been permitted in government in the first place.

    On the other hand, it will help to weed out the remaining "Good Ole Boys" in the GOP who still believe this is a practice the American public is still willing tolerate in this day and age.

    February 14, 2013 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  8. WB

    Hagel is a Republican....and the Republicans are the one holding him up from the position. I really think Obama could appoint a reincarnated Ronald Reagan or Abraham Lincoln to a position and today's Republicans would still have a problem with it.

    GOP should be embarrassed by their actions.

    February 14, 2013 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  9. A.Dot

    The cloture vote failed and now the Republicans are trying to say it's not a filibuster. If you're going to clog up the process at least admit to it.

    February 14, 2013 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  10. jinx88

    Get the GOP out of office in 2014 please, this country cannot and will not move forward as long as they have say. They spend more time on vacation than they do work and get 200K a year!!!!!! Pathetic!!!!

    February 14, 2013 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  11. Walter

    Love reading the spewage for the sanctimonious libs. When Republicans were in charge they pulled the same stuff. Get over yourselves libbies!

    February 14, 2013 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  12. Phil Thomas

    What lobby is pulling the strings now on these d bags. Four years of these games by the GOP is enough

    February 14, 2013 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    @Dominican mama 4 Obama

    "Babe I keep telling you that you really can't reason with these people, and you can't illuminate them."


    @Florida Joe

    "Where do you get you "facts" Glen or Shawn or Rushbo......He used 2 bibles Lincoln and Martin Luther King's"

    Thanks. You BOTH made MY day (for various reasons) .... LOL.

    February 14, 2013 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  14. Matt

    as former GOP recent Libertarian, the GOP is done. Du mbassss Christians ruined any hope of small government with their moral majority big government israel bs..

    February 14, 2013 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  15. Canadian Snowbird

    I greatly admire your country and your way of life. I also enjoy spending many a happy winter there.
    But your politicians, confuse the heck out of me.
    I've watched the GOP in the last four years be the "do nothing" party and try to stop everything that hints of progress
    .I thought they would have learned the error of their ways after the election.
    Apparently not. The really sad part is they won't suffer with their cadillac benefits, but the American people will.

    February 14, 2013 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  16. Keith Nixon

    It is a shame that the supposed "United" States of America has come to this. John McCain couldn't beat President Obama! Mitt Romney couldn't beat President Obama! John Boehner couldn't intimidate President Obama! Now, these types of under handed tactics are being used to railroad the office of the President of the United States! Why weren't the Republicans this forceful and persistent when George Bush lied about WMD and why didn't they step in when he was ruining the "United" States of America. Racism at its best! I guess white sheets are no longer needed?!

    February 14, 2013 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  17. rosaadriana

    Good maybe we can get a real liberal in place. I don't know why Obama keeps nominating Republicans. They don't even like each other.

    February 14, 2013 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  18. jason

    Why am I not surprised!

    February 14, 2013 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  19. Nell Eerb

    The Republicans will never save face the way they act and have acted since Obaecauma was elected. I quit the Republican party because of actions like this, sorry to say I ever was a republican. Shame on them!!

    February 14, 2013 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  20. olepi

    "Far too many judicial and executive nominees have been delayed by the majority party of the Senate. An up-or-down vote is a matter of fundamental fairness, and it is the Senate’s constitutional duty to act on each nomination. It is also critically important to our judicial system and the proper functioning of our federal government to fill these positions.
    Senators have a right to vote for or against any nominee—but blocking votes on nominations is unacceptable."

    This is what the GOP said when THEY were in power, trying to get nominees passed.

    February 14, 2013 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  21. Senior

    ......and this vindictive obstructionist behavior will make me vote Republican next election?????

    February 14, 2013 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  22. Lynda/Minnesota

    @Dominican mama ...

    My post might not have gotten through ... might have forgot to add my name (or something). If not ... thanks! Yeah, I know. I know. You and Sniffit keep telling me otherwise ... yes?

    February 14, 2013 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  23. Organic1

    The GOP memories are shorter than I thought, and they are turning blue holding their breath.

    February 14, 2013 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  24. Matt

    As a former member of the GOP now Libertarian, the GOP is done..They don't care about small government at all. They do care about theocracy and israel though. Dumb Christians ruined any chance of having a smaller government. Luckily theyre are a dying breed.

    February 14, 2013 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  25. Dave W.

    They are holding it up mainly because Hagel is a liar and is not the person for this job. Quite simple if only the far-left liberals did some research.

    February 14, 2013 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
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