Thursday night, a vote was called to invoke cloture on Chuck Hagel’s nomination to become secretary of defense, and thus move to a final confirmation vote. The cloture vote failed. Only 58 senators voted yes, short of the 60-vote cloture threshold, with Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) joining a unified Democratic caucus in voting yes. The rest of Hagel’s former Republican Senate colleagues voted against him. Given that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) voted no for procedural reasons (it allows him to bring another cloture vote in the future), that puts Hagel only one vote short of breaking a filibuster.
Except Republicans don’t want to call it that. ”It’s not a filibuster. I don’t want to use that word,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) told Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin. Immediately after the vote, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) agreed, taking to the Senate floor to declare, “This is not a filibuster.” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) issued a statement clarifying that while he “believe[s] a president’s cabinet members deserve an up-or-down vote,” he also thinks “the majority leader’s motion to cut off debate only two days after an important nomination is reported to the Senate floor is premature.”
It is rather hard to come up with a plausible definition of “filibuster” that excludes what Senate Republicans did Thursday. My colleague Rachel Weiner wrote an excellent piece on this very question Thursday, and found that most serious experts agree that invoking cloture to prevent Hagel’s nomination from coming to a final vote is absolutely a filibuster.
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