By Michael A. Memoli
5:23 PM EST, February 13, 2013
WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans refused to allow a vote Wednesday on the nomination of Chuck Hagel to lead the Defense Department, staging the first filibuster against a president’s choice to head the Pentagon since the agency was created.
Majority Leader Harry Reid called the move “a shame” as he announced on the floor of the Senate that he was unable to reach an agreement with the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee to avoid such a delay. Reid filed a motion to end the filibuster, which he said he expected to vote on Friday, at which point Democrats believe they will have enough votes to confirm Hagel’s appointment.
Only two Cabinet appointments have ever been filibustered: C. William Verity, President Reagan’s choice for Commerce in 1987, faced a filibuster by conservative Republicans who said he was too favorable to trade relations with the Soviet Union; and Dirk Kempthorne, President George W. Bush’s pick for Interior in 2006, was briefly delayed by two senators who objected to government policies regarding oil drilling. Both were ultimately confirmed easily – Kempthorne on a voice vote.
But although the move to slow the Hagel confirmation was a rare step, it was not a surprise, as Republican opponents of the nomination had long been threatening it. Although Hagel is a Republican, he angered many of his former GOP colleagues by opposing Bush’s policies toward the Iraq war. His critics say he has been too critical of Israel and not critical enough of Iran.
Democrats believe they have the votes necessary to ultimately confirm Hagel. To do so would require that at least five Republicans join the 55 Democrats and affiliated independents to move forward to a final vote.
Only two Republicans have come out in support of Hagel’s nomination, but several more have indicated they would not support a filibuster. If those votes hold, Hagel would have the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster unless a surprise defection takes place from Democratic ranks. Some Democrats have not yet revealed their voting intentions – most notably Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, who initially expressed some reservations about the choice.
The fight to confirm Hagel reached a boiling point Tuesday during a meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee, after newly elected Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas suggested without evidence that the former Nebraska senator might have received compensation from foreign entities. Democrats maintained that Hagel had complied with all established disclosure protocols, with several Democrats admonishing Cruz for his comments.
The committee ultimately reported Hagel’s nomination favorably to the full Senate on a party line vote, 14-11.