Republicans blocked Chuck Hagel’s nomination from moving forward this afternoon as President Obama’s pick for Defense secretary failed to clear a procedural vote in the Senate.
The cloture vote was to end debate on the Hagel nomination and move forward with a final vote. A 60-vote threshold was required.
The tally was 58-40, with one senator — Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) — voting present, and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) missing the vote.
“We need a secretary of Defense on the job,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on the floor after the vote. “There’s nothing that’s going to change in the next 10 days about the qualifications of Chuck Hagel.”
Republicans opposed to the Hagel nomination, including Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), expressed a willingness to allow a vote after the Presidents Day recess.
“Today’s vote is a vote to continue the debate over Chuck Hagel,” said Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). “It is premature to close off debate on a nominee who hasn’t responded to reasonable requests for information and to a White House who continues to stonewall.”
“The president deserves considerable latitude on appointing members of his cabinet and I have typically supported those nominees including those with whom I have significant policy disagreements,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said. “But Sen. Hagel’s shifting positions, questionable performance during the Senate confirmation process and disturbing record on some of the most important national security issues of the day concern me.”
At a gaggle with reporters earlier today aboard Air Force One, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the administration wanted Hagel to be confirmed in time for a defense ministerial meeting in Brussels next week.
“It does not send a favorable signal for Republicans in the United States Senate to delay a vote on the president’s nominee — a nominee who is a member of their own party — to be the Secretary of Defense. It’s difficult to explain to our allies exactly why that’s happening,” Earnest said.
“There is a clear majority in the United States Senate for Senator Hagel’s confirmation. These delaying tactics are unconscionable and they should end right away,” he added.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he believes Obama should get some leeway with nominees — that’s why he voted for John Kerry’s nomination to the State Department.
“However, I also believe there are standards in both policy and background that go beyond mere disagreement and go to the suitability of the nominee to perform their job,” Paul said. “That is why I have placed a hold on the nomination of John Brennan to serve as director of the CIA until he answers the question of whether or not the President can kill American citizens through the drone strike program on U.S. soil.”
“That is also why I voted to not end debate on the Hagel nomination. I do not believe Sen. Hagel has adequately explained his activities and their financing since he left the Senate, and I believe this criteria is especially important when dealing with the revolving door between government and the private sector,” Paul added.
On a conference call today, Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) — who voted with Susan Collins (R-Maine), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to end debate move Hagel forward to a final vote — said he’s “not running around trying to bend people’s arm, but my hope is that we can move forward on a vote.”
“If the Democrats were doing this, we would be hollering that this was a filibuster, and probably did in the past,” Johanns said. “…And my hope is that whatever issues are out there, they can be resolved. He can move to a vote. This is now getting awfully important. Secretary Panetta clocks out today at noon. I just think it’s important to have a secretary of Defense in place.”