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Senators Haggle Over Hagel Confirmation Vote

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., at his Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Jan. 31. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters.

The Morning Line

Senate Republicans aren’t showing Chuck Hagel much love these days.

Dismayed over the Obama administration’s response to the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and emboldened by Hagel’s shaky performance at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, GOP lawmakers have launched an effort to delay a full vote on the president’s defense secretary nominee.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., charged Republicans had taken an unprecedented step in obstructing a cabinet appointment, and filed a motion Wednesday to limit debate on the confirmation and force a vote by as soon as Saturday.

“This is the first time in the history of our country that a presidential nominee for secretary of defense has been filibustered,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “What a shame. But that’s the way it is.”

The first test for Hagel will come Friday when the Senate is expected to take a procedural vote, with 60 votes needed to move to final debate.

For their part, Republican lawmakers insist their approach is not actually a filibuster.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had previously indicated he would oppose such a tactic to block Hagel’s nomination, but said Tuesday that he would vote against the procedural step this week unless the administration provided more information to lawmakers on the president’s actions during the night of the Benghazi attacks last September.

“We need to know what the president’s conversations were,” McCain told Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy.

The New York Times’ Jeremy Peters and Mark Mazzetti note just how rare it is for senators to filibuster a cabinet choice:

According to the Senate’s historian, Donald A. Ritchie, only 5 percent of presidential cabinet nominees have been blocked or rejected by the Senate. Only twice since 1917, when the Senate’s modern filibuster rules were created, has a cabinet-level nominee been subject to a supermajority vote of 60, as Republicans are forcing with Mr. Hagel.

On Thursday, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., threatened to put a hold on the president’s nominee to be director of the CIA, John Brennan, over what he said were unanswered questions about the limits of the administration’s drone program.

“These issues must be discussed openly so that the American people can understand what constraints exist on the government’s power to use lethal force against its citizens,” Paul said in a statement. “Before confirming Mr. Brennan as the head of the CIA, it must be apparent that he understands and will honor the protections provided to every American by the Constitution.”

The pushback by Republicans against Hagel and Brennan highlights their objections to the president’s foreign policy strategy, but also foreshadows potential roadblocks for achieving the collaborative dynamic that will be needed to reach agreement on domestic policy initiatives such as immigration reform, gun violence legislation and overhauling the tax code in the coming year.

The president hit the road Wednesday in support of his second term agenda, seeking to build momentum off of his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

His speech at an engine parts manufacturer in Asheville, N.C., focused largely on economic policies designed to help middle class Americans. Mr. Obama also announced a goal of training two million Americans with skills that would lead directly to new jobs.

“No job in America should go unfilled because somebody doesn’t have the right skills to get that job, nobody. So, if there’s a job open, we should train those folks right away so that they can do the job,” the president said.

Judy Woodruff took a closer look at some of the president’s prescriptions and how they fit into larger questions about inequality in the country with Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of “The Nation.”

Watch the segment on inequality here or below:


The Senate Judiciary Committee spotlighted the immigration debate Wednesday with its first hearing on the subject, as a group of bipartisan legislatures plan to introduce a bill to the Chamber. The NewsHour hosted a conversation with Politico’s Manu Raju and Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute to analyze the hearing, and how the anticipated legislation may unfold in Congress.

“Six months ago we would have said no way would we do anything on this issue seriously. The election changed all of that,” Ornstein told NewsHour correspondent Margaret Warner.

The president has highlighted three priorities for any coming bills on the issue, which received a warm reception from Congressional Republicans at Tuesday’s State of the Union address. Mr. Obama spoke about strengthening border security enforcement measures, building ways for undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship and expediting paperwork for foreign skilled workers.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has stressed potential challenges in any new legislation. Legislatures may have trouble finding support for the details of reform, such as the plan for a path to citizenship.

And of course, any Senate bill would face a challenge in the GOP-led House of Representatives, which in recent months has felt pressure from its more conservative faction to buck Senate compromises.

“If this is approved by a big bipartisan [Senate] majority, it’s going to be very hard for the House Republican leadership to simply ignore this or break it apart and pass something on a piecemeal basis,” Raju said. “If they lose that fragile coalition that they have right now in the Senate, it’s going to be much easier for the House Republicans to go their own way.”

Warner also highlighted the testimony of Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-Prize winner journalist who revealed in a 2011 New York Times article he had grown up in the country without documentation.

NewsHour production assistant Ellen Rolfes wrote about his testimony, and the full video is here.

Watch the Wednesday night report here or below:


  • As part of this post-State of the Union tour, the president will travel Thursday to a suburb of Atlanta to promote his plans for early childhood education.
  • National Journal’s Chris Frates reports that a bipartisan group of Senate lawmakers are working on a deal to strengthen gun background checks and could have an agreement by the end of the week.
  • Politico’s Kate Nocera and Patrick Reis note that Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has kept a low profile since taking office in January. On Wednesday she pressured Congress to vote on the confirmation of appointed director Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • The Republican National Committee released its annual Valentine’s Day card promotion. “Everyone knows our politics could use a little more love these days. So there’s no better way to celebrate than to send that politically-minded special someone a Valentine featuring President Obama or one of his fellow liberals,” said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
  • Former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s political action committee bought newspaper ads and put up a new website targeting Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., over his recent ethics dustup.
  • North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is pushing his state not to support a Medicaid expansion, The Raleigh News-Observer reports.
  • Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia skipped the State of the Union address Tuesday night for a talk of his own across town because the event is a “childish spectacle,” he said.
  • Democracy for America has released an ad urging congressional action on gun violence. The ad uses former Virginia Tech student John Woods, whose girlfriend was killed by the on-campus shooter in 2007, and scenes from this week’s State of the Union address. Watch the ad here.
  • They Deserve A Vote” gets its own website, a collection of images of gun violence victims.
  • Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report writes that hispanic candidates have failed to win congressional elections in districts with large hispanic populations.
  • The National Republican Congressional Committee raised $4.4 million in January.
  • Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg hosted his first political fundraiser — for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — Wednesday night at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was greeted by protesters pushing Zuckerberg to “unfriend Chris Christie” for his position on public pensions and women’s health funding.
  • Former Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown is now a Fox News contributor.
  • We’re officially fans of Little Rock high school student Leonard Cooper.
  • Today’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA looks at the number of marriages in the U.S.


  • Christina talked with the Daily-Download.com team about online dating sites for a special Valentine’s Day segment. Watch that here or below:
  • Kaiser Health News looks at emergency Medicaid money and how it often goes toward female undocumented immigrants who deliver babies in U.S. hospitals.
  • The NewsHour asked foreign policy analysts to respond to the State of the Union address. Here’s what they wrote.
  • We’re looking for volunteers to join our Amara community, which is an online network that translates and captions videos such as the State of the Union address. Reporter-producer Josh Barajas explains the project here.








Christina Bellantoni and political desk assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz, @indiefilmfan, @tiffanymullon, @dePeystah, @meenaganesan and @abbruns.

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