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To Reid’s Disgust, Senate Republicans Delay Vote on Hagel

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; photo by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call.

The Morning Line

“Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, it gets worse.”

That was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., bemoaning a Republican filibuster of President Obama’s nominee to lead the Pentagon, former Nebraska GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel. Reid’s comments capped a day of high drama that does little to change the bottom line: Hagel is likely to be installed as defense secretary.

But not as quickly as the White House and Democrats would like. Republicans used a procedural move to block Hagel, with the party nearly united against their former GOP colleague and decorated Vietnam veteran. The sticking point for senators like Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona? They said the vote was being rushed. (They have each said they will allow the vote to go ahead in a few weeks.)

When the numbers clearly didn’t add up to move forward, Reid moved up a scheduled Friday vote to Thursday afternoon, and the 58-to-40 result fell short of the 60 votes needed to consider the nomination. In English, that means you should mark your calendar for the last week of February, when the Senate returns from recess.

As we’ve noted, it’s the first-ever filibuster of a president’s nominee for defense secretary.

As he complained about the delay, Reid noted that several Republicans have said they will vote for final approval of Hagel when the time comes. Politico quoted GOP sources saying that “as many as ’15 or 20′ Senate Republicans would, in fact, vote for an end to debate after the recess — but none would vote yes before the break.”

On Thursday, four Republican Senators voted to advance the debate: Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mike Johanns from Hagel’s home state of Nebraska. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah voted “present” because he didn’t like the precedent being set. The Democrats were united, though Reid cast a “no” vote as a procedural way to bring the matter back to the floor.

“Despite unprecedented responsiveness and transparency from the White House, Republicans have constantly invented new pretexts for opposing Sen. Hagel’s nomination, and Republicans continued their embarrassing display of disregard for our national security by blocking Sen. Hagel’s nomination today,” Reid said. “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 27 years in the Senate.”

The New York Times pointed out that for the White House, “a major matter of concern” is that political groups that have been running ads against Hagel will keep up the pressure in an intensified campaign.

In a Google Hangout Thursday, President Obama lamented the unusual circumstances. “[T]here are only a handful of instances in which there’s been any kind of filibuster of anybody,” he said, adding it is “just unfortunate that this kind of politics intrudes” during war time.

Before the vote, a White House aide told reporters the way the administration views things: “I think we all need to take a deep breath. Sen. Hagel is going to be confirmed, if not tomorrow, then when the Senate returns from recess.”

“This is nothing but a pointless delay and the latest attempt to play politics on Benghazi. Chuck Hagel had nothing to do with Benghazi, and the information in the White House letter released today was already publicly available,” the aide said.

Republicans insisted to Roll Call reporters they aren’t actually filibustering a future Pentagon chief:

“It’s not a filibuster,” Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said. “All we’re doing is extending debate. We could have another vote tomorrow.”…

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said. “This is not like blocking; this is like saying we don’t want to end debate yet.”

In practical terms, Thursday’s action means the Hagel vote is delayed until Feb. 26 at the earliest. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who was supposed to be celebrating Thursday as his last day, has agreed to stay on the job until Hagel is installed.

On the NewsHour, Margaret Warner walked through the implications of the vote and the next steps with Todd Zwillich of PRI’s “The Takeaway” and Mark Thompson of Time magazine.

Watch the conversation here or below:

As senators wrangled over procedure, Judy Woodruff spoke with four freshmen representatives about their experiences since joining Congress last month.

Woodruff asked their reactions to Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address and their expectations for the coming term. Reps. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, Doug Collins, R-Ga., and Luke Messer, R-Ind., expressed appreciation for the president’s mention of jobs, with the two Republicans saying they wished Mr. Obama had delved into more specifics. The four new representatives — fresh off the campaign trail — were in accord over the need to sometimes buck their own parties.

Watch the panel here or below:


  • The Star-Ledger’s Matt Friedman breaks the news Thursday that Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., will not seek a sixth term in 2014, leaving Newark Mayor Cory Booker as the leading Democratic candidate for the seat. Roll Call’s Abby Livingston examines the state of the race now that Booker could battle Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. in a primary.

  • The Illinois State Senate approved same-sex marriage legislation, and now the issue moves to the House.

  • The National Review Online reports that Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., is mulling a potential Senate bid in 2014, should veteran Democratic Sen. Carl Levin decide to retire.

  • Senate Democrats have come up with a $110 budget plan designed to supersede the sequester. Look for it to hit the Senate floor just days before the sequester is scheduled to take effect. So far, that’s in line with House Speaker John Boehner’s request that the Senate move first on a bill. Republicans weren’t all that excited by the proposal, which includes equal tax revenue increases and spending cuts. A White House spokesman framed the issue for the GOP as a choice between supporting education, health care and national defense or tax loopholes. “The American people overwhelmingly support the approach Senate Democrats are taking, especially the ‘Buffett Rule,'” he asserted.

  • ProPublica discovers the names of companies, including Exxon, Pfizer, Chrysler and Time Warner, that gave money to a conservative nonprofit that has worked in state politics to influence North Carolina redistricting plans and an anti-union campaign in Indiana.

  • Secretary of State John Kerry will deliver his first official foreign policy address as a member of Mr. Obama’s Cabinet next Wednesday at the University of Virginia.

  • The New York Times’ Jeff Zeleny looks at Mr. Obama’s new proposal for a bipartisan pair of election lawyers to look at ways to make voting easier.

  • David Corn at Mother Jones reports that staffers at the conservative group FreedomWorks produced a parody video that involved one staffer in a panda suit simulating a sex act on another staffer wearing a Hillary Clinton mask.

  • Two more Republicans — businessman Sean Bielat and former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan — are throwing their hats in the ring for the special election primary for the open Massachusetts Senate seat.

  • Josh Dubois, former faith adviser to Mr. Obama, opens up in a blog post on CNN.

  • A poll by a GOP firm finds Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., leading actress Ashley Judd ahead of a possible 2014 matchup, 49 percent to 40 percent.

  • Jonathan Martin writes in Politico about Texas’ changing political landscape.

  • Roll Call’s Amanda Becker details New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez’s ongoing ethics woes.

  • Here’s what America would look like if the 50 states were redrawn (and renamed) so that every state had equal population.

  • Mr. Obama’s willingness to get rid of the penny — which bears Abraham Lincoln’s head — may have been the newsiest tidbit in his Google Hangout, Roll Call reports: “Obama said getting rid of the penny wouldn’t be a huge savings but that it was a metaphor for a larger need to streamline government.”

  • A judge plans to unseal documents relating to the murder of Chandra Levy, the intern romantically linked with former California congressman Gary Condit. The Associated Press reports that although an El Salvadoran illegal immigrant was convicted of the crime, a judge has had sealed hearings on the case this week.

  • The Obamas ventured over to Minibar in Washington’s Penn Quarter neighborhood for Valentine’s Day dinner. No word on what they ordered, but the restaurant, notorious for its exclusive six diners per seating, offers 20 courses starting at $225. Chef Jose Andres is reportedly an Obama supporter.

  • Relatedly, “A Good Day to Die Hard” is not a good movie.

  • Friday’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA: The nearly $100 billion cost of the 2011 farm bill barely subsidized farmers.


  • The Center for Public Integrity reports on conflicts of interest that have kept the Environmental Protection Agency relatively quiet about toxic chemicals in drinking water. The PBS NewsHour posted the story here.

  • Lyndon Johnson proposed to Lady Bird Taylor on their first date, and their relationship lasted through nearly 40 years and a notable presidency. On Thursday’s NewsHour, their granddaughter Catherine Robb and historian Michael Beschloss discussed the historical and personal importance of courtship love letters between the former president and his future wife that the LBJ Presidential Library released on Valentine’s Day. Watch the segment here or below:

  • In this week’s Judy’s Notebook, she tackles 10 takeaways from this year’s State of the Union address.

  • Here’s the American Airlines-US Airways merger by the numbers.


Politics Desk Assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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