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Is filibuster threat behind Hagel’s delayed Senate vote?

February 7, 2013 by Scott Bomboy


The Senate can’t escape the pesky topic of the filibuster, as the other F-word has been linked to Chuck Hagel’s defense secretary nomination.

Chuck Hagel. Source: Department of Defense.
Chuck Hagel. Source: Department of Defense.

Prominent Republican senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham have disavowed the filibuster, so far, as a way to block Hagel’s nomination. But for now, Armed Services Committee Chairman Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, has delayed a committee vote on Hagel.

Related Story: Your one-stop primer on the Senate filibuster

The committee vote was scheduled for Thursday. However, on Wednesday, Levin released a statement about the delay.

“I had hoped to hold a vote on the nomination this week, but the committee’s review of the nomination is not yet complete,” Levin said. “I intend to schedule a vote on the nomination as soon as possible.”

Some Republicans opposed to Hagel’s nomination had asked him to supply information about his recent speeches and financial information about the privately held companies that paid for them. Hagel seems unlikely to comply, particularly since privately held companies rarely release their financial numbers.

They also wanted transcripts of other Hagel speeches.

Two Republican leaders, Mitch McConnell and James Inhofe, have dropped hints about pursuing a historic filibuster or another tactic, a hold, against the defense secretary nominee.

Such an act would be unique, since a party within the Senate has never attempted a filibuster against a cabinet nominee since the current filibuster rules were put in place in 1975.

Under the current rules, a cloture vote would need to take place, where at least 60 senators agree to limit floor debate, and overcome the filibuster.

There are 55 senators in the Democratic caucus in the Senate, and Republicans would need to weigh the cost of choosing to keep the status quo on filibuster rules, or rejecting Hagel.

A Senate deal over filibuster rules came last month after threats from Senate majority leader Harry Reid to use the “nuclear option” to drastically change filibuster rules in the current Congress, on a strict party-line vote.

Reid and McConnell agreed on a compromise about the filibuster rules for the next two years, adopting suggestions from two other senators: John McCain and Carl Levin.

But if the GOP forces a cloture vote over Hagel, the filibuster truce would be on very shaky ground. Only five Republicans would need to vote against the filibuster, and Hagel’s nomination would be assured.

According to the The Washington Post as of Thursday, five Republicans were on record as supporting Hagel or opposing a filibuster, including McCain (who is against a filibuster).

And on Thursday afternoon, a sixth, Deb Fischer, a senator for Nebraska, told an Omaha newspaper she would vote against Hagel’s nomination, but she couldn’t support a filibuster.

Once Hagel’s nomination is sent to the Senate for a floor vote, only a simple majority needs to approve it.

Another scenario is where one or several senators request a hold on Hagel’s nomination, which is a brief delay in the process. But the Democrats can also call for a cloture vote to end the hold.

One theory behind Levin’s move to delay the committee vote was to make sure the GOP’s information request was made to the best ability of Hagel, the nominee.

The delay could also be used to make sure the GOP considers the ramifications of seeking a filibuster of a presidential cabinet nominee.

For now, the soonest a committee vote on Hagel could happen would be next week.

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