Democrats said they also pressed ahead with a vote to fill the Cabinet position quickly, as Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta steps down and heads to California. But Democrats conceded that if Hagel is blocked, they will try again after the recess.
“If we don’t bring it to an end today, then there will be another vote a week from Tuesday,” Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the armed services committee, said before the vote. But, he added, “the world is too dangerous to have this period of uncertainty.”
Earlier Thursday, Reid announced that Republicans had secured enough votes to mount a filibuster on the confirmation.
But a number of Republicans who believe it is bad precedent for a defense secretary nominee to face a 60-vote threshold said they would be willing to vote to end debate on the nomination if the White House provided further answers to several lingering questions.
Democrats can return to the issue after next week’s recess, when a number of leading Republicans have said they will vote to close off debate, allowing the Senate to move ahead to an up-or-down vote on the nomination, requiring only 51 votes for confirmation.
“I think that during the break is sufficient time to get any additional questions answered,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said before the vote Thursday. “And I will vote for cloture on the day we get back, and I believe that enough of my colleagues would do the same,”
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told reporters that cutting off debate is “premature.”
“When we come back from the recess 10 days from now, senators should have had sufficient time to consider Senator Hagel’s nomination, and I will vote to have an up-or-down vote,” Alexander said. “I know of many of my colleagues who think that’s enough time. It would be better for the institution and the country if we had enough time to consider Senator Hagel and then have an up-or-down vote, so we don’t get into a habit of making it look like we’re suing the filibuster to block Cabinet nominees. That’s not the case here.”
Earlier in the day, Democratic aides confirmed that senior Republicans told them late Wednesday that GOP leaders had at least 41 Republicans to block the planned Friday vote. A senior GOP aide confirmed that some Republicans who had publicly opposed filibustering what has traditionally been a key national security post with bipartisan support were now withholding their votes for answers from the White House.