Amid accusations of a GOP filibuster, Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked a vote on the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Defense secretary Thursday, but senators appeared poised to clear the nomination after the Presidents Day recess, barring any unexpected revelations.
By a 58-40 vote, the Senate defeated an effort to cut off debate, short of the 60-vote threshold for cloture. Four Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mike Johanns of Nebraska — voted with Democrats to cut off debate. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., switched his vote to join the prevailing side so he could make a motion to reconsider.
Pressing for quick action, the White House accused Republicans of political posturing on the nomination. “For the sake of national security, it’s time to stop playing politics with our Department of Defense, and to move beyond the distractions and delay,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Although the cloture effort was defeated, senators seem ready to advance the Hagel nomination when they get back from recess Feb. 25.
“We’re going to vote, as I said, Tuesday when we get back in the morning,” Reid said.
Several Republicans, including John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, said Thursday afternoon on the Senate floor that while they would vote against cloture this week, they would be willing to allow the nomination to move forward when Congress returns after recess.
“I think that is a sufficient period of time to get answers to outstanding questions,” McCain said.
Graham added, “I plan to vote for cloture, but against the nomination” after recess. Just minutes after McCain, Graham and Alexander said they would support cloture after recess, Reid came to the floor to move the cloture vote to 4:15 p.m. Thursday. The vote was previously scheduled for Friday.
Despite lawmakers temporarily blocking the nomination, Republicans have insisted the delay on Hagel is not unprecedented.
“This is not the first time we have had a delay in confirmation of a secretary of Defense,” McCain said, referring to questions that were raised over the nomination of former Texas Sen. John Tower, who was George Bush’s nominee for the position in 1989.
The Senate has also previously filibustered two Cabinet officials — Dirk Kempthorne for Interior and C. William Verity for Commerce. Two other Cabinet positions — Kathleen Sebelius for Health and Human Services and John Bryson for Commerce — were subject to 60-vote thresholds.
Many Republicans have repeatedly said this week they were not formally filibustering the Hagel nomination. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said Wednesday there are “filibusters designed to draw out more information, and there are filibusters designed to ultimately defeat the candidates.” Ranking Republican of the Armed Services Committee, James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, has insisted this is not a filibuster. Democrats on Thursday dismissed that argument.
“Let no one kid each other,” Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said. “What we’re deciding here today is whether or not we’re going to continue with a filibuster.”
John Cornyn, R-Texas, implied Reid was forcing the Hagel cloture vote to make the story about Republicans filibustering the nomination. “I realize that’s the headline the majority leader would like the newspapers to write,” Cornyn said, adding that would “misrepresent” GOP objections.