Whether they’ll cop to it or not, Republicans are currently engaged in a filibuster of Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be Defense secretary.
Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma’s conservative senior senator, has attempted to place a hold on Hagel’s nomination. Lindsey Graham has indicated his willingness to do the same. Generally, such requests are granted as a courtesy by the majority leader, but Harry Reid has opted not to honor them in this case and has gone ahead and filed a cloture motion. Thus, 60 votes will be required for there to be a simple up/down vote on the nomination. As Jonathan Bernstein writes, there is no way to call this anything but a filibuster.
“What a shame,” Reid lamented after filing his motion on Wednesday. “That’s the way it is.”
Reid may simply have been speaking as a White House ally there, but he’s also a Senate institutionalist, one who - to the consternation of many progressives activists - balked at an effort last month to water down the chamber’s filibuster rules. Reid clearly believes in the unique individual prerogatives that the Senate grants its members and is loath to break with tradition and create new procedural rules and precedents - especially if they might come back to bite his party the next time it’s in the minority. From an institutionalist’s standpoint, what’s happening now with the Hagel nomination is very troubling.
Simply put, we’re in uncharted territory. Look at it this way: Hagel is on course to be the first Pentagon nominee and only the third Cabinet nominee ever to face a 60-vote requirement for confirmation. But even that understates it, because the other two - C. William Verity and Dirk Kempthorne - weren’t up against serious filibusters.