While Chuck Hagel may not have won over a majority of Republicans in the days following his lackluster appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, there appears to be enough GOP opposition to an unprecedented filibuster of a Cabinet nominee to, if necessary, generate the 60 votes required for cloture.
Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Monday that his panel would hold an up-or-down vote as early as Thursday on Hagel’s nomination to be the next Pentagon chief — a hurdle the former Republican senator from Nebraska is expected to clear easily on a committee where Democrats outnumber Republicans 14 to 12.
With many GOP lawmakers concerned about Hagel’s stances on Iran, Israel and non-proliferation, talk continues to percolate about whether there will be a concerted effort to block the nomination, forcing a cloture vote.
The Senate has never successfully filibustered a Cabinet nomination by voting against cloture since the advent of the 60-vote threshold nearly four decades ago. Two past Cabinet nominees — C. William Verity in 1987 to run the Commerce Department and Dirk Kempthorne in 2006 to run the Interior Department — won cloture motions before being confirmed.
Many Republicans, even those who have publicly voiced concerns about Hagel’s nomination, don’t want to set a new precedent.
In 2009, Reid worked around a filibuster threat of Kathleen Sebelius by setting a 60-vote requirement for her confirmation to be secretary of Health and Human Services, avoiding a time-consuming cloture vote. But her confirmation was not in jeopardy and she was ultimately confirmed on a 65 to 31 vote.
Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who had a testy exchange with Hagel during his confirmation hearing last week, said Monday he would emphatically oppose a filibuster of the nominee. Other Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee, including Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Roy Blunt of Missouri, have said they would oppose Hagel’s nomination, but likely would not support a filibuster.
Meanwhile, GOP moderates, such as Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, remain undecided on the nomination, but they too are lining up against a filibuster.
“I think there has to be an awfully high threshold to filibuster a Cabinet nominee and I doubt that that threshold has been met in this case,” Collins said. “To me, to support a filibuster, the person would have to have done something egregious,” she added.
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who will meet with Hagel later this week, recalled the threat of a Democratic filibuster that delayed for several months his confirmation to be George Bush’s Education secretary. The Senate later approved him by voice vote.
“In the history of the Senate, no cabinet nominee of the president has been denied his or her seat because of filibuster,” said Alexander, who added he is withholding judgment until he meets with Hagel.
No senator has threatened an outright filibuster, but opposition to Hagel’s nomination remains high in the days following his Jan. 31 confirmation hearing. On Tuesday, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham called on President Barack Obama to “reconsider” Hagel’s nomination amid concerns that he had been too soft on Iran.
“Chuck Hagel is a good man, but these are dangerous times,” he said in a written statement. “What kind of signal are we sending to the Iranians when our nominee for secretary of Defense seems clueless about what our policy is?”
The consensus among leadership aides is that if a filibuster does happen, it likely will be staged by a junior member.
One possibility is freshman Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who made clear at the hearing last week that he expects Hagel to provide the committee with additional transcripts from speeches, as well as more detailed financial disclosures. Cruz would not comment Monday night.
Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah is another possibility to block Hagel’s nomination, a GOP aide said. A Lee spokeswoman said Tuesday that the senator has not decided whether he plans to try to block the vote on Hagel.
Emily Cadei contributed to this report.