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Republican lawmakers prevented the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as defense secretary from coming to vote Thursday afternoon, placing the nominee’s fate in limbo as GOP senators continue to pry into his ties to controversial organizations.
Democrats failed to garner the 60 votes needed to end a Republican filibuster over the nomination. The final vote was 58 affirmative votes to 40 in the negative. Four Republicans, Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Mike Johanns (Neb.), and Susan Collins (Maine), voted for cloture; Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) voted present and David Vitter (R., La.) did not vote. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) voted no for procedural reasons.
Hagel’s nomination now will be stalled until after next week, as lawmakers gear up to leave Washington, D.C. for the week-long President's Day recess.
GOP Senate sources indicated that Hagel’s chances of winning approval are becoming slimmer as opposition simmers.
“This is a clear message of disapproval to the president on his choice for secretary of defense and shows that Chuck Hagel does not have the kind of bipartisan support that a secretary of defense should have to be effective,” said one GOP Senate aide.
“Every day we learn more and more disturbing news about Chuck Hagel's statements on issues of importance to our national security — and each revelation makes it harder and harder for Democrats to justify their support for such a fringe nominee,” the source said.
Others put the blame on the Obama administration for selecting such a controversial nominee.
"The failure rests with Sen. Hagel for stonewalling requests and with the president for picking a nominee who cannot gain broad bipartisan support,” said Brian Phillips, communications director for Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah), a vocal Hagel opponent.
Republican senators also refuted Democratic claims that they were playing politics with the nomination.
“This is not a filibuster,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Olka.) maintained from the Senate floor prior to the vote. "This is the same thing required by the Democrats in the case of [former United Nations Ambassador] John Bolton,” and several other Republican nominees.
Inhofe said that a higher vote threshold was required due to the many questions surrounding Hagel.
“We really want a 60 vote margin,” he said, maintaining that Hagel has failed to adequately address myriad concerns that senators have expressed over his lack of transparency and willingness to engage with Iran.
Other senators are holding up the nomination until they receive more information from the White House about the deadly Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.
Hagel’s nomination has been controversial from the start.
Lawmakers and Jewish groups expressed vocal opposition to the nominee for making comments that they claim are anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.
Hagel has also faced a backlash for saying in the past that the U.S. should engage directly with Iran.
Following a contentious confirmation hearing last month, in which Hagel struggled to answer questions, opposition to the nominee mounted as he stonewalled attempts to obtain his financial information.
Hagel’s past comments also have continued to haunt him as his nomination remains up in the air.
The Washington Free Beacon reported Thursday that during a 2007 speech Hagel “said the U.S. Department of State was an adjunct of the Israeli foreign minister’s office.”
He also was criticized for referring to a so-called “Jewish lobby” that “intimidates” lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Republican critics maintain that Hagel is unfit to lead the Pentagon due to his controversial view on Iran, Israel, and other foreign policy matters.
Grassroots pro-Israel organizations such as Christian United for Israel (CUFI) launched a last minute bid to block Hagel’s nomination.
CUFI issued an action alert Thursday urging its members to contact their senators. More than 13,000 CUFI members had fired off anti-Hagel e-mails as of press time.