Reid warns against delaying Hagel's confirmation
Updated at 3:10 p.m. ET
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., slammed Republicans today for attempting to filibuster the confirmation of former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., as defense secretary, suggesting the Pentagon could be left without a leader if Hagel's confirmation is blocked.
Reid announced this afternoon that the Senate will hold a cloture vote at 4:15 p.m. ET, requiring 60 votes to move on to a final confirmation vote tomorrow for Hagel. If the vote today receives 60 votes, then the final vote on his confirmation tomorrow only requires a simple 51-vote majority.
If today's cloture vote fails to receive 60 votes - in essence, a filibuster - then, Democratic leaders say they will attempt to end the filibuster when lawmakers return on February 24 after a week off.
Senate Republican resistance stems from their feeling that the Hagel appointment is being rushed through and Republicans have been demanding more answers from Hagel, specifically on his personal finances, before proceeding.
Hagel has "answered exhaustive questions about his record," Reid said. "He has the support of the president of the United States... He has the support of this body, a majority vote of this body... At a time when America faces so many threats... It's tragic they've decided to filibuster this qualified nominee."
Other Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., threatened to block Hagel's confirmation as a way to try to force the Obama administration to answer his questions about their handling of September's attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
However, Graham did say today that "unless there is some bombshell, I'd be ready to move on to vote" after the break. Other Republicans including Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., echoed Graham's sentiment.
Two Republicans have already said they would vote for Hagel to be confirmed - Sens. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Mike Johanns, R-Neb., and presumably they would also vote in favor of breaking a filibuster. A third Republican, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, announced this week that she will vote against Hagel's confirmation, but in favor of breaking a filibuster.
Earlier today, Reid slammed Republicans today for their vow to filibuster, incorrectly suggesting the Pentagon could be left without a leader if Hagel's confirmation is held up (there won't be a vacancy at the Pentagon; current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will not step down until Hagel is confirmed as his successor, the Pentagon told CBS News).
That didn't stop Reid from dramatizing the matter.
"In less than two hours, our country will be without a secretary of defense," Reid incorrectly suggested on the Senate floor today. "Republicans have been telling our troops, you can have a leader later."
Reid noted again today that it is "unprecedented" for the Senate to filibuster a defense secretary nominee. Senate tradition dictates that the president has the prerogative to nominate whomever he chooses for Cabinet positions and that nominees should not be filibustered.
Pentagon spokesman George Little told CBS News that Panetta believes Hagel should be confirmed as quickly as possible but plans to stay in office until that happens.
Reid has scheduled a vote on Hagel's nomination for Friday, when Republicans are expected to filibuster it. It takes at least 60 votes to break a filibuster and officially end debate on an issue.
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