The Republicans in the US Senate are still addicted to the. Hopes that they might change their ways as the 112th Congress handed over to the 113th have proved unfounded. Yesterday, they blocked moving to a final vote on the nomination of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to serve as Secretary of Defense. This doesn’t represent a political strategy, however, so much as it does a tantrum.
The Senate’s arcane procedural rules are becoming more familiar to the average person because the GOP is abusing them with such frequency. To confirm his nomination, Senator Hagel needs a simple majority of the 100 members in the Senate. However, to end the debate and move to that final vote, he needs a 3/5 majority. Yesterday, he secured 58 votes with 40 against, one present and one absent. He was two votes shy of what he needed.
The Republicans are claiming this is not actually a filibuster. Over at the Washington Post Rachel Weiner pulled some quotations together. Ms. Weiner wrote:
‘This is not a filibuster,’ Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) announced on the floor immediately after the vote. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) concurred, saying Republicans weren’t trying to block the vote, just asking for more time.
‘We’re going to require a 60-vote threshold,’ Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) told Foreign Policy. But, he added, ‘It’s not a filibuster. I don’t want to use that word.’ Likewise, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) says he now might vote against cloture, which cuts off debate. But he still thinks ‘a filibuster is a bad precedent’ to set for a Cabinet nominee. No Cabinet nominee has been defeated by filibuster; the vast majority receive only an up-or-down vote.
Some parliamentary experts note a difference between extending debate and filibustering, but in practical terms, any difference lacks a distinction. The GOP hates Chuck Hagel because he turned against the Bushevik war of aggression in Iraq, and as a wounded grunt in Vietnam, his opinion mattered. Free thinking among today’s Republicans is a sin.
That said, the Senate will confirm the nomination when it reconvenes a week from Monday, as some GOP senators have said they will not vote to continue debate when it comes up next. So why bother this time around? The pretext is that they want more information about the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi last September. After 10,000 pages of documents and testimony from cabinet level officials, it is hard to see what more they need.
A more likely interpretation is they are angry about losing an election, have no viable leadership for the next generation just yet, and are adrift ideologically. They are flexing this muscle because they can and to try convincing themselves that they are relevant. It’s rather sad, really.