GOP filibusters Hagel nomination for now

The ways of Washington D.C. - and the Congress - can sometimes be sort of odd, and that was on display Thursday in the U.S. Senate, as Republicans blocked the nomination of former GOP Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, but also telegraphed that Hagel was likely to be confirmed for that post later this month.

The vote itself made history, as it was the first time the Senate had ever refused to break a filibuster on a Cabinet nominee; supporters were one vote short of invoking cloture and shutting off debate.

Four Republican Senators broke ranks to vote with all Democrats: Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska.

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah voted "Present," which is basically the equivalent of voting for the filibuster, since 60 votes are needed.

The outcome brought forward the expected political reaction from Democrats.

"Today, Senate Republicans put political posturing ahead of our nation’s security," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

"Republicans continued their embarrassing display of disregard for our national security by blocking Senator Hagel’s nomination," added Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who labeled the GOP filibuster of Hagel "unprecedented."

As noted above, Reid was correct - this was the first time since the Senate changed its rules to allow for cloture votes on nominations in 1949 that a Cabinet nominee had been successfully blocked; cloture votes on Cabinet choices had only happened two other times, in 1987 and 2006.

But even as the votes were being cast, it looked like Hagel would still be approved as Defense Secretary later this month, as Reid quickly set a re-vote on the cloture motion for February 26, and some GOP Senators publicly indicated they would support ending debate at that point.

"When the Senate returns on Feb. 26, there should have been sufficient time to consider Sen. Hagel’s record, so I will vote to end debate because I believe a president’s cabinet members deserve an up-or-down vote," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN).

Alexander took to the Senate floor after the cloture vote was over and told the story of how his own nomination for Secretary of Education - while it wasn't filibustered - was put on hold for several months by Democrats during the first Bush Administration.

Alexander said the advice he was given by GOP Senators at the time was that he just had to wait. He did wait for almost three months, and then his nomination was finally approved by the Senate.

In this case, the "wait" is going to be another week and a half. And then it looks like Hagel will be confirmed.

Republicans say they need that time to get extra information about the former Senator and copies of other speeches that Hagel made in recent years.

But also at work was something unsaid - that Hagel left the Senate without many friends in the Republican Party, and his support for President Obama and opposition to policies of President George W. Bush left him with very little goodwill among his former colleagues.

Hagel was always sort of a maverick during his two terms in the Senate, and frankly, while most Republicans call him a "friend," they're just being nice.  It again raises the question as to why the White House didn't go with other top ranking civilian military officials, who would have been quickly approved by the Senate, like Michelle Flournoy, who would have been the first woman to run the Defense Department.

So, now we wait for the Senate to return from its vacation.

Will anything really change before February 26? Probably not.

And it was one more head shaking reminder of why the Senate can be a frustrating place, especially for the White House.

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