Both sides still think the former GOP senator from Nebraska will be confirmed, but the filibuster brought stark condemnations from Obama and Senate Democrats, who decried it as an unprecedented partisan move against a nominee to lead the Pentagon.
The move was one more signal of how times have changed in the once-clubby Senate. Democrats say they think that some senior Republicans facing reelection in 2014 are so fearful of conservative primary challenges that they will ignore the bipartisan traditions of the Senate to be more in line with junior GOP senators elected on the strength of tea party affiliations. The result is that hoped-for bipartisan deals on such issues as immigration and budget matters could be harder to reach.
“It’s just unfortunate that this kind of politics intrudes at a time when I’m still presiding over a war in Afghanistan and I need a secretary of defense who is coordinating with our allies,” Obama said Thursday in an online forum hosted by Google.
“What seems to be happening, and this has been growing over time, is the Republican minority in the Senate seems to think that the rule now is that you need to have 60 votes for everything. Well, that’s not the rule.”
Republicans denied that their actions constituted a filibuster because they expect Hagel to be confirmed, and they insisted they will allow a simple-majority vote on the nomination later this month.
They said they stalled the nomination because they want more information about Hagel’s post-Senate career, including foreign policy speeches he delivered and his work with private investment groups.
The clash marked an escalation in nomination wars dating to the 1980s, crossing into an area that has most retained an aura of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill: national security.
The Hagel fight also demonstrated the depth of ongoing Republican concerns about the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Several GOP senators initially said they wanted more information about the attacks in exchange for approving the nomination.
Such demands are not uncommon, but they usually involve delaying confirmation for lower-level Cabinet posts or deputy secretary positions while senators seek information or rulings on regulations from the White House.
“This isn’t high school, getting ready for a football game or some play that’s being produced at high school. This is — we’re trying to confirm somebody to run the defense of our country, the military of our country,” an angry Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said in a floor speech Thursday morning.