Though it was reported as the beginning of a filibuster against the nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, the move was actually one of fulfilling their jobs as senators - that responsibility of advise and consent in the nomination process. Republican senators are requesting information contained in speeches delivered by Hagel after he left office and on the Benghazi consulate attack from the White House.
Republicans succeeded Thursday in blocking a vote on Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s defense secretary nominee, by launching the first filibuster in history against a president’s choice to fill the Pentagon’s top civilian post.
GOP senators said they are delaying the confirmation in order to have more time to study Mr. Hagel’s record and to obtain more information on the White House’s handling of the September attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, a matter on which they accuse the administration of stonewalling or providing wrong information. Republicans expect they will green-light him later this month after the chamber returns from a weeklong vacation.Had Hagel been forthcoming on all materials, this delay would not be necessary. By President Obama choosing to nominate the one former Republican senator with an anti-Israel biased history, he deliberately set up this intense scrutiny.
Not even Hagel's harshest critics are expecting a real filibuster.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) today released the following statement on the Senate’s decision to extend debate on the nomination of Sen. Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary:
"Today the Senate rightly voted to continue debate on Sen. Chuck Hagel's nomination. There is no reason to rush his nomination to a vote until he has adequately responded to multiple requests from members of the Armed Services Committee for additional information.
Twenty-five senators have asked Senator Hagel to disclose the personal compensation that he has received the past five years, and twice he has flat-out refused regarding what he was paid in 2008, 2009, and 2010. This is within his direct control, and his refusal to comply with this reasonable request is troubling. Both Henry Kissinger and Hillary Clinton were asked similar questions, and given the vital importance of the Secretary of Defense to our national security, Sen. Hagel should not be held to a lesser standard.
Once Senator Hagel responds to these reasonable requests to disclose whether and to what extent he has any foreign financial conflicts of interest, I am confident that a bipartisan majority of the Senate will move forward to the timely consideration of the merits of his nomination."
It's more of a "hold" than a filibuster.
But while all of this sounds like a big filibuster, Republicans would prefer it be described as a hold. Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler explains that the while it's unusual to filibuster a cabinet-level nominee, it's not unusual to put a hold on that person's nomination. A hold is like a threat to require a 60-vote margin. Usually a majority leader honors a hold, but this time, Harry Reid didn't, Beutler writes, effectively defying the holds. That's how Republicans are arguing this isn't really a filibuster. Arizona Sen. John McCain said delaying nominees like this in order to get more information is "a time-honored practice."
Senate Majority Reid feigned shock that the process has come to this. He conveniently left out that there is a little historical precedent here. During the 1989 nomination process of John Tower, renowned as the first Republican senator from Texas since Reconstruction, as defense secretary, led to his defeat by a party line vote.
U.S. Senate confirmation of a president's Cabinet nomination of a former U.S. senator is usually pro forma. But the treatment of George Bush's pick for secretary of defense, ex-Texas senator John Tower, was anything but standard.
After five grueling weeks of testimony, debate, and rumor-mongering, Tower's nomination was defeated in March 1989 by a mostly party-line vote.
Also, as Reid insists that the filibuster rule is open to tweaking, he may be reminded that it was Senate Democrats who insisted it would be status quo during the George W. Bush years, when Senate Republicans contemplated going to what is commonly called the "nuclear option" in Senate votes.
That was then, this is now.
It should also be noted, in light of Senator Reid's distress, that Secretary Panetta is still on the job. Next week he travels to Russia to represent the U.S., as a matter of fact. Our country is not without a working defense secretary. It's just more drama from the senator.