Senate Republicans today chose to uphold a filibuster against Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel, despite many of them previously pledging that they would be willing to allow him to be confirmed.
Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and John Cornyn (R-TX) all voted against cloture, despite their pleas during the Bush administration that a president’s Cabinet nominees should receive an up-or-down vote.
Four Republicans, Sens. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Mike Johanns (R-NE), voted to break the filibuster. The final vote was 58-40, with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) voting present, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) not voting at all, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) voting “no” as a procedural move so that he can bring another vote to the floor at a later date.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had originally scheduled the cloture vote for tomorrow morning, but surprised many by pushing it up to this afternoon. Earlier today, Reid took to the Senate floor to lambaste his Republican colleagues for delaying an up-or-down vote on Hagel, the first filibuster of a Secretary of Defense nominee.
Prior to the roll call’s beginning, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) attempted to explain that the vote that was set to take place was the vote “to confirm Chuck Hagel,” rather than merely being a procedural vote. Inhofe also claimed that a 60-vote margin was common practice, rendering the actions of the Republicans not a filibuster. However, the motion was still filed by Reid as cloture — the ending of debate — rather than the actual confirmation of Hagel, as laid out be Levin before voting. This leaves the door open for Hagel’s nomination to remain on the Senate floor and renders the GOP’s actions a filibuster under the Senate’s rules.
While Senate Republicans are opposed to voting on Hagel today, they seem to believe that they’ll change their minds after the Senate returns from its President’s Day recess in 10 days. This morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that he expected to be willing to move Hagel forward at that time, “unless there’s some bombshell that he likes blood sucking vampires.” Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and John McCain (R-AZ) said roughly the same thing today, leaving their votes against Hagel today confusing.
The hope for such a bombshell emerging seems far less than likely. A speech given by Hagel in 2008 that conservatives have long-sought as evidence that Hagel falls far outside of the mainstream was released today, turning out to be a dud. Likewise right-wing implications that Hagel was secretly being backed by a group called “Friends of Hamas” also proved to be utterly false, fabricated on a far-right media outlet.
After today’s filibuster, the Senate will reconsider Hagel after their break. While today’s vote showed that the GOP was willing to obstruct and delay, they ultimately will be unable to do this forever. In the end, Hagel still possesses more than the majority vote needed for final passage.