To Reid's Disgust, Senate Republicans Delay Vote on Hagel
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call.
"Just when you thought things couldn't get worse, it gets worse."
That was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., bemoaning a Republican filibuster of President Obama's nominee to lead the Pentagon, former Nebraska GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel. Reid's comments capped a day of high drama that does little to change the bottom line: Hagel is likely to be installed as defense secretary.
But not as quickly as the White House and Democrats would like. Republicans used a procedural move to block Hagel, with the party nearly united against their former GOP colleague and decorated Vietnam veteran. The sticking point for senators like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona? They said the vote was being rushed. (They have each said they will allow the vote to go ahead in a few weeks.)
When the numbers clearly didn't add up to move forward, Reid moved up a scheduled Friday vote to Thursday afternoon, and the 58-to-40 result fell short of the 60 votes needed to consider the nomination. In English, that means you should mark your calendar for the last week of February, when the Senate returns from recess.
As we've noted, it's the first-ever filibuster of a president's nominee for defense secretary.
As he complained about the delay, Reid noted that several Republicans have said they will vote for final approval of Hagel when the time comes. Politico quoted GOP sources saying that "as many as '15 or 20' Senate Republicans would, in fact, vote for an end to debate after the recess -- but none would vote yes before the break."
On Thursday, four Republican Senators voted to advance the debate: Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mike Johanns from Hagel's home state of Nebraska. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah voted "present" because he didn't like the precedent being set. The Democrats were united, though Reid cast a "no" vote as a procedural way to bring the matter back to the floor.
"Despite unprecedented responsiveness and transparency from the White House, Republicans have constantly invented new pretexts for opposing Sen. Hagel's nomination, and Republicans continued their embarrassing display of disregard for our national security by blocking Sen. Hagel's nomination today," Reid said. "Watching Republicans with otherwise distinguished records on national security place their desire to please the tea party ahead of doing the right thing for our troops is one of the saddest spectacles I have witnessed in my 27 years in the Senate."
The New York Times pointed out that for the White House, "a major matter of concern" is that political groups that have been running ads against Hagel will keep up the pressure in an intensified campaign.
In a Google Hangout Thursday, President Obama lamented the unusual circumstances. "[T]here are only a handful of instances in which there's been any kind of filibuster of anybody," he said, adding it is "just unfortunate that this kind of politics intrudes" during war time.
Before the vote, a White House aide told reporters the way the administration views things: "I think we all need to take a deep breath. Sen. Hagel is going to be confirmed, if not tomorrow, then when the Senate returns from recess."
"This is nothing but a pointless delay and the latest attempt to play politics on Benghazi. Chuck Hagel had nothing to do with Benghazi, and the information in the White House letter released today was already publicly available," the aide said.
Republicans insisted to Roll Call reporters they aren't actually filibustering a future Pentagon chief:
"It's not a filibuster," Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said. "All we're doing is extending debate. We could have another vote tomorrow."...
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said. "This is not like blocking; this is like saying we don't want to end debate yet."
In practical terms, Thursday's action means the Hagel vote is delayed until Feb. 26 at the earliest. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who was supposed to be celebrating Thursday as his last day, has agreed to stay on the job until Hagel is installed.
On the NewsHour, Margaret Warner walked through the implications of the vote and the next steps with Todd Zwillich of PRI's "The Takeaway" and Mark Thompson of Time magazine.
Watch the conversation here or below:
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