For the very first time in American history, a cabinet nominee was brought to the Senate floor, filibustered by a minority of members, and came up short of 60 votes.
Former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, President Obama’s choice to lead the Defense Department, faced fierce opposition from members of own party, and ultimately earned the support of 59 senators, which was one shy of what he needed to advance. (The Senate Majority Leader, for procedural reasons, had to switch his vote, so Hagel technically ended up with 58 votes.)
It appeared as recently as last week to have the necessary support to be confirmed, even in the event of a filibuster, but several GOP senators who said they’d allow an up-or-down vote changed their minds in recent days.
Indeed, as recently as Monday of this week, for example, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said a filibuster, if it were to occur, “sets a wrong precedent.”
And then, today, McCain voted against cloture on Hagel anyway.
All 55 members of the Senate Democratic caucus backed Hagel, and they were joined by four Senate Republicans – Johanns, Cochran, Collins, and Murkowski – some of whom were prepared to oppose the nominee’s confirmation, but each of whom opposed the filibuster.
Asked about her decision after her vote, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski said, “I said I was not going to support a filibuster and I stuck by my word.” It’s more than we can about some of her colleagues.
The fight is not, however, over.
Some of the Republicans who have blocked Hagel said this afternoon that they’ll allow a vote on his nomination if the White House provides them with additional information about the Benghazi attack at some point over the next week. This is, in other words, the latest example of extortion politics – Senate Republicans will be gracious enough to allow the institution to meet its constitutional obligations, permitting a possible vote on a Pentagon chief during a war, but only if they get something they want in return.
The Senate wasn’t designed to work this way. For about two centuries, it didn’t have to work this way. But the radicalization of the Republican Party has led to a political environment in which we end up using the word “unprecedented” an awful lot.
GOP obstructionism has reached epidemic levels in recent years. Today, to a historic degree, it got worse.