Senate Democrats and the White House failed to convince enough Republicans Thursday to allow for an up-or-down vote on former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to lead the Department of Defense.
The Senate voted 58-40, with one senator voting present, which is two votes shy of reaching the 60-vote threshold necessary to overcome a filibuster. Only a simple majority is needed for confirmation.
U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., opposed moving the nomination to a vote until after the Senate returns from recess the week of Feb. 25.
"The debate on Chuck Hagel is not over," Graham said. "It has not been serious, we don't have the information we need, and I am going to fight the idea of jamming somebody through until we get the answers we need about what the president did personally when it came to the Benghazi debacle."
McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential candidate, told Fox News that Hagel’s nomination was filibustered because Republicans had just received answers to questions regarding the former Nebraska senator from the White House Thursday morning.
“We didn’t get the answers to many questions,” McCain told Fox News. “We just got the answers to major questions we had this morning.”
The White House rushed a letter on Thursday to the senators that sought to alleviate the concerns of McCain and Graham. However, it did not address the personal activities of President Barack Obama during the attack of Sept. 11 in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans — another key sticking point with Republicans.
Instead, the letter stated that "Secretary [Hillary] Clinton called Libyan President Magariaf on behalf of the President on the evening of September 11, 2012 to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libyan and access to Libyan territory," The letter was signed by Kathryn Ruemmler, counsel to the president.
Ruemmler wrote that the president spoke to Magariaf the evening of Sept. 12.
The administration continues to support Hagel's nomination. White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters during a press gaggle aboard Air Force One that one that it does not send a favorable signal to U.S. allies or troops serving in Afghanistan.
"The president stands strongly behind Senator Hagel," Earnest said. "The president believes that Senator Hagel would do a wonderful job in a very important role, which is leading the Department of Defense at a challenging time for our country."
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said that he voted against moving forward with a vote on Hagel because he still has unanswered questions about his finances since he departed the Senate in 2008 after serving two terms.
"I believe this criteria is especially important when dealing with the revolving door between government and the private sector," Paul said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said the vote was unprecedented for a president's pick for defense secretary.
"Not a single nominee for secretary of defense ever in the history of our country has been filibustered," he said in a speech on the Senate floor.
Republicans are seeking "extraneous requests" for information that will never be satisfied, Reid said.
"This isn't high school getting ready for a football game. We're trying to confirm somebody to run the defense of our country," Reid said.
If ever confirmed, Hagel would replace Leon Panetta, who is retiring. Panetta said he will not leave before his successor is in place, but has expressed eagerness to return to his home in California.
Democrats, who have united in support of Hagel, control 55 seats in the 100-member Senate and could confirm Hagel without any Republican backing. A Cabinet nominee requires the support of only a simple majority to be confirmed.
Hagel broke from his party as a senator by opposing former President George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq War, angering many Republicans. Some Republicans have also raised questions about whether Hagel, 66, is sufficiently supportive of Israel, tough enough on Iran or capable of leading the Pentagon.
His performance at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee also drew harsh criticism. Even some Democrats have said he appeared unprepared and at times hesitant in the face of aggressive questioning.
Earlier, two Republicans had said they would vote for Hagel and several others said they would oppose procedural hurdles, but those positions may have changed.
Hagel’s not stepping down at this juncture, a seemingly resigned McCain said.
“Frankly, because I’m opposed to him, I’d love to see him step aside, but he will not,” he told Fox. “They’ll probably get the votes when we return from the recess.
“There’s a lot of ill will towards Sen. Hagel, because when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly — at one point, said he was the worst president since Herbert Hoover — said that the [Iraqi troop] surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam war, which is nonsense,” McCain added.
“He was very anti-his own party and people. People don’t forget that. You can disagree, but if you’re disagreeable, then people don’t forget that.”
Further, “Chuck Hagel does not have the qualifications — in the view of many of us, particularly me — to serve. He’s has no managerial experience. His view of the world is very different. His answers on Iran were troubling. His opposition to the surge, saying it would fail.
“You can only judge people on what they’re going to do by what they’ve done in the past — and that record is not a good one,” McCain added.
“At the same time, the president won the election. He can select his nominees, but we have advice and consent.”
Reuters wire service contributed to this story.
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