GOP Senators threaten Hagel filibuster
Some GOP Senators feel so strongly about Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee for Secretary of Defense, that they intend to filibuster the matter and prevent his nomination from coming to the Senate floor.
But the filibuster threat - reiterated Monday by Sen. Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee - would make Hagel just the third Cabinet nominee in history to require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster on the Senate floor. The other two nominees were President Ronald Reagan's 1987 choice to head his Commerce Department, C. William Verity, and President George W. Bush's 2006 choice of Dirk Kempthorne to be secretary of the interior.
Even if Hagel cracks the 60-vote threshold, the GOP will have sent a message to President Barack Obama: Nobody gets a free pass on confirmations.
Never before has a defense secretary nominee required 60 votes on the floor to overcome a filibuster threat, the closest being Bush's 2006 pick to be an assistant secretary of defense, Peter Flory, according to the Senate's historical office.
"Yes, I will," Inhofe said when asked by POLITICO whether he would filibuster Hagel's nomination, adding that he didn't know that the move would be a first.
Of course, it's still possible that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) cut a deal and a Hagel filibuster is avoided - or that Inhofe, or another GOP senator, backs down from their threats.
But the filibuster warnings are the latest twist in a rocky confirmation process that would be likely to weaken the new defense secretary's relationship with Congress at a key time for the Pentagon. They come after Hagel has endured blistering attacks from Republicans on past statements and positions - on Iran, Israel, Iraq and nuclear arms control - and after a shaky confirmation hearing failed to quell GOP concerns. Republicans have demanded more information on the source of his income after he left office, which Democrats have called unfair.
How much trouble is Hagel in? As it stands now, nose counters in the Senate think Hagel has 58-61 votes for cloture. Three Republicans have indicated they will vote to confirm the former Senator with a couple of more giving hints that they may oppose a filibuster. In addition to the filibuster threat, Senator Graham has indicated he may put a hold on the nomination - which means if Harry Reid doesn't have 60 votes, he won't try and bring the nomination to the floor.
If a cloture vote were held today, it might not make it. That's why Reid is delaying the vote, hoping he can peel off a couple of more GOP Senators who might be reluctant to join in the nearly unprecedented filibuster of a cabinet nominee.
The president will probably call for an up or down vote on Hagel during his State of the Union speech tonight.