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The GOP's Hagel Dilemma: To Filibuster, or Not to Filibuster?

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Republicans have been lining up to oppose Hagel’s nomination to be Defense secretary. But so far, no GOP senator has said he would attempt — for the first time in U.S. history — to filibuster a Cabinet nominee.

Two sources speculated that Cruz was considering a hold. In response to a question on whether he would filibuster Hagel’s nomination, Cruz said in a statement that “we should do everything possible to ensure the Senate has the information necessary to make an informed decision.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, an Armed Services Committee member, threatened to hold up Hagel’s nomination until the current Defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, testifies before the panel on the attack last year on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were killed.

That hearing could take place as early as this week and would likely pacify the South Carolina Republican, who said last week that he was as “happy as a clam” that a hearing was in the works.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not taken a public position on either Hagel’s nomination or whether his caucus should filibuster the confirmation vote. But McConnell also aspires to one day be the leader of the majority party, under a GOP president, and if that scenario ever were to take place, it’s unlikely he would want to set the precedent now to make his life more difficult in the future.

Other aides made the practical case that Democrats and the White House seem confident they can pick up enough support to exceed the 60-vote threshold, which would make a cloture vote a tedious exercise in delaying the inevitable.

After a hearing that spanned more than eight hours and raked over Hagel’s record as a two-term Republican senator and his policy stances since he left Capitol Hill in 2009, several Republicans formally came out against him.

Besides Blunt, Republican Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Mark S. Kirk of Illinois announced Feb. 1 that they would vote against Hagel. Two Republicans, Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska, have said they would vote for confirmation.

Even so, the White House expressed optimism.

“I would be stunned if, in the end, Republican senators chose to try to block the nomination of a decorated war veteran who was once among their colleagues in the Senate as a Republican,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Feb. 1.

Hagel’s next step is to make it through a vote of the Senate Armed Services Committee, likely this week. But that requires only a simple majority, and Democrats outnumber Republicans on the panel 14 to 12.

Assuming he survives the committee vote, a GOP move to block Hagel on the floor has political risks that go beyond the nominee himself.

Just last month, senators reached a bipartisan deal to enact a package of modest changes to the Senate’s rules and procedures.

While the package preserves the right to force a 60-vote supermajority vote on bills and nominations, the goal of the deal — which was brokered by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and McConnell — is to allow business to progress more rapidly through the chamber.

It would set a new precedent for Cabinet nominees. Senators have traditionally given presidents wide latitude to pick their closest advisers.

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