A cloture motion on the nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel for U.S. Secretary of Defense failed by a single vote today.
Iowa’s Senator Chuck Grassley and most of his Republican colleagues voted against the cloture motion. Four Republicans joined the 55-member Democratic caucus to vote yes, but a cloture motion needs 60 votes to pass. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid then changed his vote to "nay" so that he will be able to bring Hagel’s nomination before the Senate again. In the end, the roll call was 58 to 40.
Blocking a cloture motion is generally known as a “filibuster,” but several Senate Republicans claimed today that they did not filibuster Hagel’s nomination. Rather, they delayed a final vote in order to have more questions answered.
“I think it’s appropriate to wait until we come back,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). “I think there’s plenty of time to have any further questions answered, and I intend to vote for cloture then … he’d certainly get [my vote] and a number of others.”
Reid and the White House blasted Republicans for holding up the nomination, accusing them of playing politics at a time that a Defense secretary is sorely needed. […]
The White House had hoped Hagel would be in place after this week to attend a NATO meeting of defense ministers in Brussels next week. Now Panetta may take one more trip abroad before he retires back to California.
Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is staying on until a successor is confirmed, so the U.S. is not without a leader at the Pentagon. But it would be better to send the new secretary to meet with NATO counterparts, rather than the guy who’s headed out the door.
I’ll update this post as needed if I see relevant comments from Grassley or from Democratic Senator Tom Harkin.
P.S.- Senate Democrats were foolish not to move forward with Harkin’s version of filibuster reform.
UPDATE: Steve Benen said it well.
While the unprecedented nature of the move is important, there’s another contextual angle that’s been nagging me lately.
I always figured that if Senate Republicans were prepared to cross a line in the sand like this, they’d do it under more favorable circumstances. I can imagine the GOP minority getting worked up about a liberal Secretary of Labor nominee who wrote a letter to the editor of some left-wing magazine in 1979, and Republicans filibustering her to make some amorphous point about defending free enterprise.
But Chuck Hagel? President Obama nominated a red-state Republican for his cabinet, who also happens to be a decorated combat veteran, and he’s the guy GOP senators decide to use unprecedented obstructionism to try to block?
Republicans have never felt the need to filibuster a cabinet nominee, but they waited until a member of their own party was set to lead the Pentagon — during a war — and then they decided to pull out all the stops?