The filibuster in the Senate is a minority voice, to prevent the majority party from simply forcing any laws or policies it chooses without listening to alternatives. It is used with controversial issues, to allow the minority a voice in stating priorities and offering amendments. It allows one senator the choice to "hold the floor" with an unending presentation, until and unless he gives up, or if a "super-majority" (60) Senators vote to stop him or her. At one time, a person physically occupied the Senate chamber without giving up their place. I remind you of "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" and the emotional end of the movie where Jimmy Stewart opposes corruption in his home state. His passion and conviction turn the necessary, compromised votes.
In today's Senate, the procedures make this process more streamline, less sacrificial, in a sense. The minority party only needs a single member to threaten the filibuster. They can "count noses" to see if the 60+ majority exists to override the process before the threat. If not, it's back to the drawing board, and see where they can compromise.
The nomination for Secretary of Defense, former Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, hit this procedural snag. Or at least, the threat of it. Most Republicans oppose the nomination. Some oppose it because of an apparent lack of administrative experience, necessary for running the department during a time when budget cuts are coming (sequestration, shutting down war efforts in Afghanistan, etc.) and new policies like allowing gay and female soldiers in combat areas continue to be fully implemented. Hagel has not shown much administrative acumen.
Some oppose Hagel for more philosophic reasons. As Senator from Nebraska, he opposed the "surge" in Iraq (agreeing with then-Senator Obama, but opposing his party and President Bush). He's expressed empathy for bilateral negotiations with Iran, using sanctions and diplomacy first, with an uncertain point of using military confrontation to prevent Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons. This, combined with comments made as a Senator about the influence of the "Jewish Lobby" called into question his positions on the Middle East. Finally, Hagel, after leaving the Senate, researched and wrote (is a co-author) the Global Zero report, supporting nuclear disarmament, starting with the United States' arsenal in leadership.
Hagel actually drew more skepticism and concern in his confirmation hearing; appearing to be poorly prepared, having to re-trace his steps and re-state his answers on several occasions. During the hearing, there were requests for "further documentation" (providing communications, and personal financial records, because some of Hagel's private investments have been with defense contractors.) Hagel assured the committee he would provide any and all information, but has not given any more information in the interim.
Finally, the minority is trying to twist the arm of the Executive branch. When former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, testified before the Senate on the Benghazi attack of September 11, 2012; she responded with emotion and righteous indignation, combined with her recent medical concerns and imminent retirement, leaving Senators to applaud her service and accept her presentation without detailed answers. As Secretary of State, John Kerry, went through his confirmation hearing, his relationship with the Senate was collegial and, of course, he had no accountability, for the situation. His confirmation was almost a formality.
Now, with Hagel's nomination, Republicans see a way to ask the questions they feel have not been answered. That age-old mantra of the Watergate Era..."What did the President know...when did he know it?" has been resurrected. In it's current form, the other key question is, "The attack took 7 hours from start to finish, with communications to and from the State Department throughout. What did the President do for those seven hours?" So far, no timeline or explanation has been offered from the White House.
They've allowed Clinton to "fall on the sword" of accountability, and in return the President offered his "rare" joint interview on "60 Minutes". Steve Kroft had the chance to ask the questions but failed to follow through, instead showing concern for Ms. Clinton's health. It seems the President keeps wanting to move "Forward" but Republicans in the Senate keep pulling him back, trying to use any means to get his attention and solicit answers for the four families who lost someone in the attack.
Is it a filibuster? As with most political issues, it's technical and complicated. The "nose-counting" only produced 58 votes to prevent the filibuster. Two short of the needed 60. These included current Nebraska Senator (former governor) Mike Johanns, frustrated with the political gamesmanship. Johanns is one of three Republicans prepared to vote for his former colleague and the mentor who introduced him to the Senate in 2008. He knows his party is against the nomination, but wants a straight vote, without the threat of procedural trickery. And 58 votes will pass the nomination.
'It's a filibuster. If the Democrats were doing this, we would be hollering that this was a filibuster." commented Johanns.
Harry Reid, the Majority Leader of the Senate, declared the filibuster unprecedented.
"Not a single nominee for secretary of defense ever in the history of our country has been filibustered. Never, ever." Reid stated.
Some Republicans closed the confirmation hearing stating a vote should happen regardless of the outcome, and a filibuster should not be used, still voted to "object to the nomination" suggesting they plan to use "any means" to block it. For now. This includes John McCain of Arizona and Nebraska's junior Senator, Deb Fischer, members of the Armed Forces Committee.
"A delay until they get their information- that's reasonable." said Fischer.
The expectation is, the vote will take place on or around the 26th of February, giving Hagel time to produce information, and for the two parties to sort out the issues. Of course, recent history suggests very little will be accomplished with two weeks of discussion. Then, the process will repeat with the next nomination, for Treasury.