Senate Republicans successfully blocked a final vote on Chuck Hagel’s nomination for defense secretary on Thursday, but they conceded he will ultimately win confirmation and take the Pentagon helm.
As Democrats expected, they came up two votes short of the 60 required to end floor debate and allow Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to call for the final vote on Hagel. But several Republicans conceded that they would agree to end debate when lawmakers return to Washington after next week's recess, knowing that Hagel has the simple majority needed to win confirmation.
The outcome means Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will keep his job one more week. Panetta, his wife Sylvia, and his beloved dog, Bravo vacated his Pentagon office anyway, smiling, shaking hands, waiving goodbye and hugging top Defense Department officials lining the grand staircase leading to the front door. Panetta will fly home to California, but later this week he will have to make one more overseas trip, to attend a meeting of NATO ministers and discuss President Obama’s Afghanistan drawdown plans.
"Today, Senate Republicans put political posturing ahead of our nation’s security," said White Hosue press secretary Jay Carney, in a statement.
"This waste of time is not without consequence," Carney argued, saying Hagel should be the one going to Brussels. "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."
"Secretary Panetta believes that Chuck Hagel will be an excellent secretary of defense," said Pentagon press secretary George Little, in a statement, "and looks forward to his confirmation following the upcoming Congressional recess. Until then, Secretary Panetta will continue to serve as Secretary. Secretary Panetta will attend the NATO Ministerial in Brussels next week and will continue to carry out his duties as Secretary of Defense."
Reid voted “no” on the vote to end debate after seeing it would fail, which enables him to call for another vote at any time he chooses, his staff explained. Calling the vote “one of the saddest spectacles I have witnessed in my 27 years in the Senate,” Reid expressed his outrage at Republicans for what Democrats said was an unfair and ever-changing list of demands.
“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."
On the floor, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) backed the filibuster, saying, “He is the wrong person at the worst time for the job.”
Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) complained to no avail, “This isn’t fair…for goodness sakes, swallow your pride.”
Reid said the Senate will try again to confirm Hagel on February 25.