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The ongoing debate over confirmation of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be Defense secretary took a detour Thursday into a partisan disagreement over what constitutes a filibuster.
Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Democrats said the 58-40 cloture vote, short of the 60 needed to limit debate, represented a filibuster by GOP senators.
Republicans “have made an unfortunate choice to ratchet up the level of obstruction here in Washington,” the Nevada Democrat said. “Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, it gets worse.”
Supporters of more robust changes to the Senate’s rules than were adopted in January — meant to reduce the number of filibusters — said the Hagel situation could push Reid to do more to address the procedure.
“I think the important thing is that the leader is getting concerned,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., a leader of the effort to make bigger changes to the rules regarding the filibuster. He added that he interpreted Reid’s comments as signaling that “if this is going to continue, he’s going to look at other ways to make the institution more productive and less bogged down.”
Republicans, meanwhile, dismissed the notion that the cloture vote amounted to a filibustering of Hagel, who even GOP senators admit is likely to get the votes needed for confirmation after the weeklong Presidents Day recess.
“It’s not a filibuster,” Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said. “All we’re doing is extending debate. We could have another vote tomorrow.”
The question is whether a cloture motion being filed necessarily has a cause-and-effect relationship with an objection being present. In some cases, Reid has filed such motions pre-emptively. In this instance, however, several GOP senators made it clear that Hagel had not provided the information they sought to move forward.
“I think we’d like for the vote to happen ... after recess so there’s enough time for some of the senators who’ve asked legitimate questions — some have gone over the top, but the ones who’ve asked legitimate questions — to have them answered,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said. “This is not like blocking; this is like saying we don’t want to end debate yet.”
In an online fireside chat, President Barack Obama scolded Republicans for holding up Hagel’s nomination, saying a filibuster of a Defense secretary is unprecedented.
“We don’t have a 60-vote rule,” Obama said.
Democrats also tried to argue that it’s dangerous for the Pentagon to be leaderless while Hagel’s nomination is in limbo.
“During times like this, it’s nice to have a secretary of Defense. Not a lame duck,” Reid said.