Although the panel held the vote open for an additional 15 minutes to allow Sen. David Vitter time to get to the chamber, the Louisiana Republican was unable to make it there in time to vote against Hagel. Vitter had asked Levin to delay the vote so members could review undisclosed speeches from Hagel that the senator obtained in the last 24 hours.
Levin rejected Vitter’s request. “This could go on forever,” he said.
The panel chairman had hoped to hold the Hagel vote during a hearing Feb. 7 on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. But many Republicans balked, with 26 GOP senators sending a letter to Hagel asking for additional financial information. Eventually Levin said Hagel had provided “all the financial information the rules of the committee require,” and he scheduled a vote.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday that he would move the Hagel nomination to the Senate floor “just as quickly as possible,” adding that Democrats hope to finish confirmation by Wednesday or Thursday.
“There’s never, in the history of the country, ever been a filibuster on a Defense secretary, and I’m confident there won’t be on this one,” Reid said.
Panel member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Tuesday he would filibuster the nomination until he got answers on President Barack Obama’s response to the attack in Libya.
“I think they’re trying to jam it down our throats,” Graham said, referring to the impending floor vote.
Inhofe also said Tuesday he would “insist on a 60-vote” majority. Inhofe said he thinks he can get the unanimous consent agreement to establish a 60-vote threshold for confirmation without filibustering. Asked if he had leverage to raise the margin, Inhofe said, “You got it.”
Reid said Tuesday he would not agree to raise the margin for Hagel’s confirmation to the 60-vote threshold, adding that he would not honor holds on the nomination either.
Although a 60-vote threshold would avoid delays associated with invoking cloture under Senate Rule XXII, Hagel supporters would need to be certain they had the votes for such a move. None of the 55 Democratic senators has come out against Hagel, and two GOP senators, Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska, have signaled support for Hagel’s confirmation.
Democrats have repeatedly argued that filibustering a Cabinet position would be unprecedented; voluntarily imposing a three-fifths margin would make the point moot.
Although two Cabinet nominations have been subjected to cloture votes, and two were approved under a 60-vote threshold, the Senate has rejected only nine Cabinet nominations in its history. Twelve nominations were withdrawn or received no action.