WASHINGTON -- As the nomination of Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense is caught up in a Republican filibuster, the self-serving use of the tactic is getting a second look.
Hagel's nomination, which has stalled over GOP concerns about his views on Israel and extensive inquiries into his speeches and past affiliations, is due for a vote by the full Senate on Friday. But with Republican senators using parliamentary procedure to force a supermajority vote to end debate, Democratic leaders fear they don't have the 60 supporters they need to confirm him.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took the floor on Thursday to demand an up-or-down vote on Hagel, a former Republican senator himself.
"It is tragic that they have decided to filibuster this qualified nominee," Reid said. "In less than two hours, our country will be without a secretary of defense."
His words may sound familiar to some across the aisle, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who in 2005 decried the threat of a filibuster against an array of President George W. Bush's nominees.
"I think the president is entitled to an up-or-down, that is simple majority, vote on nominations both to his Cabinet and to the executive branch and also to the judiciary," McConnell said on CNBC back then. "The filibuster was not used for 200 years. The country did just fine."
At the time, Senate Democrats were in the minority and Reid was the one considering filibustering what was likely to be a pair of Supreme Court nominees by Bush, prompting debate over a "nuclear option" to supersede the hold.
Thursday's uproar was thus the latest bout in a long cycle of posturing and hypocrisy over the use of the filibuster. But the threat to hold up a national security nominee offered a new wrinkle.
The Senate has never filibustered a nominee for secretary of defense before -- it has never successfully filibustered a presidential nominee of any sort, although a small number have been compelled to withdraw. While some national security nominees have produced controversy in the past, the candidates were usually confirmed by a wide final margin.
Condoleezza Rice, Bush's nominee for secretary of state in early 2005, faced stern Democratic opposition over her role years earlier in pushing bad intelligence that helped lead to the war in Iraq. Still, she was eventually confirmed by a vote of 85 to 13.
A few months later, Rice herself decried Democratic demands that John Bolton, Bush's nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, produce more information before they would vote to confirm him.
"What we need to do is we need to get an up-or-down vote on John Bolton," Rice said on ABC at the time. "Let's find out whether, in fact, the Senate, in its whole, in its entirety, intends and wants to confirm him. That's all that we're asking."
Bolton was ultimately driven to withdraw.
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