Hagel Nomination Blocked At Least Temporarily

Chuck Hagel will have to wait at least another 10 days to find out if the Senate will confirm him as the next secretary of defense. That's because Senate Democrats failed to muster the 60 vote supermajority needed to break a GOP filibuster of the former Nebraska Republican senator's nomination.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Chuck Hagel's nomination for Secretary of Defense is on pause for at least another 10 days - that after his one-time colleagues in the Senate, Republicans, blocked his nomination with a filibuster, and Democrats couldn't muster the 60-vote super majority to break it - all of which doesn't change the fact that Hagel still seems to be in line to succeed Leon Panetta at the Pentagon. To sort out what's going on on Capitol Hill, here's NPR congressional correspondent David Welna. Good morning.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, David, it's become clear in these hearings that Chuck Hagel is not popular with his fellow Republicans, but filibustering a defense secretary nominee is unheard of. Why wouldn't Republicans allow a simple yes or no vote on getting a Republican into President Obama's Cabinet?

WELNA: Well, Renee, they say that they want more time to review Hagel's record because the nomination was only approved by the Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. Now, Republicans had no problem confirming fellow senator John Kerry, a Democrat, the same day his nomination was sent to the Senate last month to be Secretary of State.

But they do have a problem with this maverick Republican from Nebraska, who, many of them feel, has been disloyal to his party. The voting in the committee for Hagel was a straight party line vote, with only Democrats voting for him.

Republicans did not even want to have that vote, saying Hagel had not given them the transcripts for all the speeches he's made. And Texas freshman Ted Cruz went so far as to demand that Hagel provide a breakdown of payments he's received over the past five years, when the standard's been for two years.

Cruz honed in just before that vote on a $200,000 payment that Hagel had received as an advisor to a private equity firm.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

REPRESENTATIVE TED CRUZ: Now, it may be perfectly appropriate. We might conclude that it was benign. It was reasonable. But it is, at a minimum, relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea.

WELNA: That brought an angry response from Democrats, with one of them telling Cruz he was out of line. It gives you an idea how bitter this fight over Hagel's become.

MONTAGNE: And this blocking of his nomination, this has not happened before to any other nominee to head the Pentagon, has it?

WELNA: Well, there have been other nominees who have had to wait a while to get a Senate vote, but no others have had a 60 vote barrier to cross for their nomination to move forward, as Hagel has. Majority Leader Harry Reid pointed this out repeatedly yesterday on the Senate floor.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SENATOR HARRY REID: Republicans have made an unfortunate choice to ratchet up the level of obstruction here in Washington. Just when you thought things couldn't get worse, it gets worse.

WELNA: Reid also said that filibustering the Hagel nomination on what was Leon Panetta's last day at the Pentagon sent a very bad signal to U.S. troops and to other nations.

MONTAGNE: But, David, Republicans are saying this isn't really a filibuster. What about that?

WELNA: Well, they say their intention is not to kill this nomination, which is what a filibuster would typically be used for. They say they simply want more time before voting on the nomination, that they want to use the 10-day recess that Congress has just begun to examine Hagel's record and possibly get more information about him. And some probably hope he may even bow out during that time.

John Cornyn is the other senator from Texas and the number two Republican.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN CORNYN: We didn't need to have this vote today. We could've delayed this until after the recess. And I'm confident that the vote would've turned out differently. But the White House and the majority leader were determined to have this vote in order to try to get a story in the newspaper.

WELNA: You can tell Cornyn was not happy about Harry Reid forcing the issue to a vote. Democrats think this all helps make their case that Republicans are being unreasonable and unfair. And I know there were more than a few Republicans who were not happy about casting a vote that's seen by many as sustaining a filibuster, even though it may be just a temporary filibuster.

MONTAGNE: And back to Hagel's prospects. Why is it still likely that he will become the next secretary of defense?

WELNA: Well, several senators have publicly - when the Senate reconvenes after next week, they'll vote to end this standoff and let Hagel's nomination have an up or down vote. Now, if that happens, don't expect more than a few Republicans to actually vote for Hagel. But because he'd only need a simple 51-vote majority in that case - all 55 members of the Democratic caucus back him - he could get confirmed without a single Republican vote.

MONTAGNE: David, thank you.

WELNA: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR congressional correspondent David Welna.

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