Senate Armed Service Committee ranking member Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK)… (Chip Somodevilla / Getty…)
WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans successfully moved Thursday to block the nomination of Chuck Hagel to lead the Pentagon, with Democrats falling just one vote shy of the 60 needed to end a rare filibuster for a Cabinet choice.
Four Republicans joined with all of the Senate Democrats in voting to proceed to a final vote on the former Nebraska senator’s candidacy for Defense secretary. Another Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, voted “present” – ensuring that further consideration will be delayed until after a weeklong recess.
The final vote was 58-40, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) switching to a no vote just before it closed, which will allow him to bring the motion up for reconsideration.
A visibly angry Reid, speaking on the Senate floor afterward, said he was “not going to give up” on the effort to confirm Hagel and criticized the GOP for blocking him at a critical time.
“I hope, I really hope, that nothing happens in the next 10 days,” he said.
The current Defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, who was to fly from Washington to his home in California on Thursday as he ended his tenure, is expected to continue serving.
Republicans defended the delay as reasonable and blamed the Democrats for rushing to confirm Hagel, just two days after a party-line vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who served in the Cabinet of President George H. W. Bush as education secretary, rejected the idea that this was a filibuster.
“I think in the end you should vote up or down on Cabinet nominees. But I don’t think you should prematurely cut off debate on a United States secretary of Defense nomination two days after it came out of the committee,” he said.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said, “I think there are some legitimate questions that haven’t been answered. And so I think people just want to give enough time for those answers to come back.”