WASHINGTON--The confirmation of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to be Defense Secretary stalled in the Senate on Thursday, falling short of the votes needed to prevent a filibuster.
The roll call was 58-40, with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) voting to end a GOP filibuster threat and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) voting to let it continue.
The Senate Democrats are expected to try again to advance Hagel on Feb. 26. Hagel needs to find just one more vote to meet the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster. Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-Nv.) switched his vote to no in order to preserve his option of calling the measure again for reconsideration.
Right before the vote, Durbin made an impassioned plea on Thursday afternoon from the Senate floor to support President Barack Obama's nomination of Hagel. Kirk has come out strongly against Hagel.
The vote Thursday is to block a GOP filibuster attempt--and as I write this it is not clear whether or not there are 60 votes for Hagel needed to nullify the threat. Democrats sit in 55 of the 100 Senate seats. Hagel would have been confirmed on the strength of Democratic support if there was an up-or-down vote.
The White House said in a statement after the vote, "Today, Senate Republicans put political posturing ahead of our nation's security. For the first time in American history, Senate Republicans filibustered a nominee for Secretary of Defense - a member of their own party, a decorated combat veteran, and the right leader for our troops. A clear majority in the United States Senate supports Senator Hagel's confirmation, so today's action runs against both the majority will of the Senate and our nation's interest. This waste of time is not without consequence. We have 66,000 men and women deployed in Afghanistan, and we need our new Secretary of Defense to be a part of significant decisions about how we bring that war to a responsible end.
"Next week in Brussels, the United States will meet with our allies to talk about the transition in Afghanistan at the NATO Defense Ministerial, and our next Secretary of Defense should be there. With questions about the sequester looming over the Pentagon, our Secretary of Defense should be in place. For the sake of national security, it's time to stop playing politics with our Department of Defense, and to move beyond the distractions and delay. Allow this war hero an up or down vote, and let our troops have the Secretary of Defense they deserve."
After the vote, Reid said in a statement, ""In a time of war and threats to Americans at home and abroad, Senate Republicans are waging the first-ever filibuster of a Defense Secretary nominee. Despite unprecedented responsiveness and transparency from the White House, Republicans have constantly invented new pretexts for opposing Senator Hagel's nomination, and Republicans continued their embarrassing display of disregard for our national security by blocking Senator Hagel's nomination today.
"Watching Republicans with otherwise distinguished records on national security place their desire to please the Tea Party ahead of doing the right thing for our troops is one of the saddest spectacles I have witnessed in my twenty-seven years in the Senate.
"Senator Hagel is a decorated war veteran, an expert on national security issues and the right man to lead the Pentagon in these troubling times. Democrats will continue to fight for Senator Hagel, and we will reconsider his nomination in the coming days. Some Republican senators have said that they will change their votes, and allow his nomination to proceed at some point in the future. I will take them at their word, and I will hold them to their pledge."
Before the vote on the filibuster Durbin said from the floor that Hagel opponents want to make a "political stand" in order to "stop Chuck Hagel today. ...This isn't fair," Durbin said. He said Hagel was a "good man who will do a good job."
Kirk's opposition is connected to Hagel's views on sanctions against Iran; Kirk has led a drive for tougher sanctions in order to avoid Iran gaining nuclear capability.
In a Thursday statement, Kirk repeated the Feb. 1 concerns that led him to announce his opposition to Hagel.
"During his confirmation hearing, Senator Hagel instinctively called the Iranian government both elected and legitimate. He initially offered strong support for containment of Iran, rather than President Obama's stated policy of preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon. He could not clearly explain his past opposition to unilateral sanctions against Iran - opposition as recent as 2008. And at no time did he state his position on whether the European Union should formally designate Iran's terror proxy, Hezbollah, as a terrorist organization - a group responsible for the murders of some 280 American citizens, including eight from Illinois," Kirk said.
"I appreciate and respect Senator Hagel's record of service to our country, especially as a decorated combat veteran. However, based on Senator Hagel's testimony, on top of my existing concerns regarding his past statements and votes, I cannot support his nomination."