Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced this morning that Chuck Hagel’s Defense Secretary nomination will reach the Senate floor tomorrow morning. And by all accounts, the Senate Republican minority really will launch an unprecedented filibuster.
But as Rachel noted last night, GOP senators still don’t want their filibuster to be called a filibuster, because they fear (a) that would make them appear extremist; (b) they’d be setting a new precedent; and (c) someone like me might point out all the times they said that cabinet nominees must never be subjected to a filibuster.
Steve Kornacki had a good piece this morning on just how unusual this level of obstructionism really is.
Whether they’ll cop to it or not, Republicans are currently engaged in a filibuster of Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be Defense secretary.
Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma’s conservative senior senator, has attempted to place a hold on Hagel’s nomination. Lindsey Graham has indicated his willingness to do the same. Generally, such requests are granted as a courtesy by the majority leader, but Harry Reid has opted not to honor them in this case and has gone ahead and filed a cloture motion. Thus, 60 votes will be required for there to be a simple up/down vote on the nomination. As Jonathan Bernstein writes, there is no way to call this anything but a filibuster.
While the unprecedented nature of the move is important, there’s another contextual angle that’s been nagging me lately.
I always figured that if Senate Republicans were prepared to cross a line in the sand like this, they’d do it under more favorable circumstances. I can imagine the GOP minority getting worked up about a liberal Secretary of Labor nominee who wrote a letter to the editor of some left-wing magazine in 1979, and Republicans filibustering her to make some amorphous point about defending free enterprise.
But Chuck Hagel? President Obama nominated a red-state Republican for his cabinet, who also happens to be a decorated combat veteran, and he’s the guy GOP senators decide to use unprecedented obstructionism to try to block?
Republicans have never felt the need to filibuster a cabinet nominee, but they waited until a member of their own party was set to lead the Pentagon – during a war – and then they decided to pull out all the stops?
Looking ahead, the next question to consider is whether the filibuster might actually have the intended effect. As of last week, it looked like there were more than enough votes to overcome a GOP filibuster and confirm Hagel anyway. Over the last several days, however, some of the Republicans who’d spoken out against a Hagel filibuster – including John McCain and Lindsey Graham – have started to hedge, suggesting they may yet do what they said they wouldn’t.
Indeed, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said yesterday that there are only 58 votes locked up for Hagel’s confirmation, though whether that was bluster or not is unclear.
One thing is certain: if Republicans actually manage to kill the Hagel nomination through these obstructionist tactics, the calls for filibuster reform through the so-called “nuclear option” will get very loud.