Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel will have to wait at least another week before the Senate votes on his nomination.
The Republicans launched a filibuster against the former Republican two-term senator from Nebraska by voting to continue the debate over President Obama’s nomination to name Hagel the next secretary of defense. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called for a cloture vote at 4:15 p.m. EST on Thursday in which 60 votes were needed to end debate and vote on the nomination.
Only 58 senators voted in support of the cloture meaning debate will continue. The Democrat majority voted in favor of the cloture, but could only find four Republicans to vote against the filibuster. In a procedural move, Reid switched his vote against the cloture once the Democrats realized they did not have the votes needed to block the filibuster.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, voted present in the vote. If he had voted for the cloture, the vote on Hagel’s nomination would have taken place. Republican leaders signaled that they will likely vote to end the debate after next week’s Congressional recess.
Hagel is the first defense secretary nominee in history to be filibustered. Other defense secretary nominees have not been confirmed, but none have ever been filibustered.
The Republicans have said they still need more information in order to vote on Hagel’s nomination — namely more of Hagel’s personal financial records as well as more information about President Obama’s oversight following the terrorist attacks against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Calif., said before the vote that all reasonable requests for information had been supplied to Republican senators. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the SASC ranking member, disagreed saying requests from fellow Republican committee members such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, remained outstanding.
Reid said the next vote to end debate will come on Feb. 26 after the planned week-long recess for Congress following President’s Day on Monday.
Republican leaders tried to make their case on the Senate floor following the cloture vote that they had not launched a filibuster.
“This is not an attempt to kill the nomination,” said Senate Minority Whip Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “This is not a filibuster.”
A back and forth on the Senate floor followed the vote in which Democrats and Republicans argued whether the Republicans had filibustered Hagel’s nomination.
“By every definition…this is a filibuster,” said Senate Majority Whip Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Asked about the blockage of his nominee on a Google chat President Obama participated in Thursday, Obama said “its unfortunate this kind of politics is going on” when U.S. troops are fighting a war in Afghanistan.
Durbin said on the Senate floor that he found it “peculiar” that the Republicans needed more time to learn about a fellow Republican for a nomination.
“I would have assumed you knew Senator Hagel,” Durbin said motioning to Republicans still on the Senate floor. “He’s a known quantity on your side of the aisle. Probably more so on your side than on our side.”
Current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had planned to return to his walnut farm in California on Thursday and retire from public office. He said those plans have been delayed until his successor is confirmed.
Reid said the Republicans had put the country in danger by delaying the vote on Panetta’s successor.
“It’s shocking to me that my Republican colleagues would leave our nation without a fully empowered Secretary of Defense [with] all the things we have going on in the world,” Reid said. “There are serious consequences to this delay, consequences that are occurring right now.”
The U.S. secretary of defense was scheduled to attend next week’s NATO defense minister’s meeting in Brussels to continue negotiation with Afghanistan to determine U.S. support after 2014 as well as the ongoing civil war in Syria. Panetta said he will travel to Brussels before returning to California.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, says it will not move forward until he gets answers to questions about the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Reid today said Hagel had nothing to do with any U.S. actions regarding Benghazi.
Graham’s Benghazi concern is only the latest issue that GOP Senators have taken issue with during the Hagel nomination process. At his confirmation hearing and again during a committee session on Tuesday before voting on Hagel, some Republicans attacked the former senator for not being a strong enough supporter of Israel and for being weak on Iran.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, even questioned whether Hagel took payments or contributions from countries and groups not friendly to the U.S., a suggestion that drew rebukes from senators of both parties, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
The committee ultimately approved Hagel 14-11 on a party-line vote and sent the nomination to the full Senate.
Reid said the Republicans’ decision to filibuster the defense secretary nomination “sends a terrible signal not only to our military personnel, but to the world.”
In response to Reid, ranking member Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., slammed Democrats for bringing the U.S. to its current sequestration crises.
McConnell did not mention Hagel or the effort by some GOP Senators to filibuster the vote, but focused entirely on the budget cuts that will take effect in March unless all sides agree to a budget.
“In just 15 days across the board cuts are set to take place unless the President and Senate Democrats come up with a plan to replace them with smarter, targeted reductions” in the budget, McConnell said.