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Senate Republicans Stall Hagel's Secretary Of Defense Nomination


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

There is a showdown in the U.S. Senate over the president's nomination for secretary of defense. The Armed Services Committee approved the nomination of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel earlier this week. But today, in the full Senate, Democrats have failed to muster the 60-vote super majority needed to move the nomination to the floor for a vote. They promised to try again when the Senate gets back from a 10-day recess.

Joining us from the Capitol to talk about this unprecedented Republican filibuster of a former GOP senator is NPR's David Welna.

David, Democrats needed at least five Republicans to vote with them to end this filibuster. They acknowledged that they weren't likely to get the votes they needed. Why did they go ahead and try just the same?

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Well, Robert, you know, it's two weeks now since Chuck Hagel went through a pretty tough eight-hour confirmation hearing. And as you mentioned, the Armed Services Committee voted on a straight party line to send his nomination to the full Senate two days ago. And I think majority leader Harry Reid just wanted this to be wrapped up as quickly as possible because, after all, today was Leon Panetta's last day at the Pentagon, even though he has agreed to remain as defense secretary until a successor is confirmed.

Now, when it became clear that Republicans have closed ranks enough to prevent an up or down vote on Hagel, Democrats decided to hold the vote anyway in a kind of make my day move and let Republicans go down in history as the first party ever to filibuster a defense secretary nominee.

Here's majority leader Harry Reid right after the vote on the Senate floor.

SENATOR HARRY REID: They are filibustering him. That's what they're doing. I'm going to go call Chuck Hagel when I finish here and say, I'm sorry, sorry this has happened. I'm sorry for the president. I'm sorry for the country. And I'm sorry for you, but we're not going to give up on you.

SIEGEL: Now, Senate Republicans, on another matter, had voted overwhelmingly for their Democratic colleague John Kerry last month to be secretary of state. That happened the same day that he was voted out of committee, in fact. Is this just the payback for Hagel's being such a maverick as a senator?

WELNA: You know, I think it is. A lot of Senate Republicans see Hagel as having been disloyal to their party and to their causes. He was the first Republican, for example, in the Senate to turn against the Iraq War. He's also seen as far too chummy with President Obama. And so I think this was, at least in part, payback for that.

Several senators have used holding up his nomination to force the White House to provide more information about how Obama handled the attack in Benghazi, Libya, last fall. Still, others are demanding more transcripts, speeches that Hagel made over the last five years of his financial dealings rather than the customary two years.

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham said today his GOP colleagues simply want more time to study the nomination.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: There are some questions being asked by our colleagues that I think are legitimate. Some, I think, are kind of creating a new standard. I'm confident in the next week, unless there's some explosive bombshell that I can't quite get my hands around, that I intend to vote for a cloture and against the nomination.

WELNA: So...

SIEGEL: So does that mean that there actually is a prospect of Chuck Hagel being confirmed ultimately as secretary of defense?

WELNA: Yes. I think not just Graham but a few others are saying they will eventually vote to end the filibuster even though they won't vote to confirm Hagel. If they keep their word, he should be confirmed before long by a simple majority vote.

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, David.

WELNA: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's David Welna at the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.