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First Thoughts: The Valentine's Day filibuster

Breaking down yesterday’s Valentine’s Day filibuster against Chuck Hagel… The many sides of John McCain… McCain’s straight talk: The opposition to Hagel is rooted, in part, in his criticism of George W. Bush… Senate Dems offer their proposal to replace the sequester… Obama heads to Chicago… And on Lautenberg and Booker. 

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Senate Armed Services Committee members, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. confer on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, at the start of the committee's hearing on the appointments of military leaders.

*** The Valentine’s Day filibuster: Safe to say, there was little love in the U.S. Senate yesterday on Valentine’s Day. Senate Republicans used a filibuster to temporarily block Chuck Hagel’s nomination to head the Pentagon -- the first time a filibuster had ever been used against a defense secretary nominee and just the third time ever against a cabinet secretary pick. A combination of reasons contributed to 41 Republicans denying Hagel the 60 votes he needed to clear the procedural hurdle: Some were always opposed to Hagel; others were mad at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for not respecting a GOP “hold” and scheduling the vote; some were mad at the White House over Benghazi; and one GOP senator (Orrin Hatch) voted “present” because of the precedent that a no vote would send. Here’s the bottom line on where Hagel’s nomination stands: A delay is never a good thing, because it gives his opponents additional time to try to torpedo his nomination. That said, the fact that Hagel essentially got 59 votes (including four from Republicans) suggests he’s likely to be confirmed when this vote comes up again in late February. But we’re going to have to wait another two weeks until the Senate returns from its recess. Yet more than anything else, yesterday highlighted a growing problem for the GOP in the Age of Obama: It’s clear what they are against, but what are they for?

*** The many sides of John McCain: This week seemed to bring out both the maverick and anti-Obama partisan in Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). On Tuesday, he rebuked fellow GOP Sen. Ted Crux (R-TX) for crossing a line during the Senate Armed Services Committee’s consideration of Hagel’s nomination. “No one on this committee at any time should impugn his character or his integrity," McCain said of Cruz’s suggestion that Hagel might have taken money from countries like North Korea. But then two days later, McCain joined most of his Republican colleagues in blocking Hagel’s nomination, at least temporarily. At first, McCain said that while he opposed Hagel, he wouldn’t join a GOP filibuster against him. Then he threatened a filibuster if the Obama White House didn’t answer particular questions about last year’s Benghazi attack. Yet after the White House replied to his questions, McCain said that the GOP demands by Sen. Cruz and others for more information about Hagel speeches amounted to “reasonable requests,” as the Washington Post notes. Talk about whiplash.  

*** McCain’s straight talk: So what’s the real story? Well, McCain himself shared it late Thursday afternoon during a FOX interview, in which he suggested his opposition to Hagel was rooted in the former senator’s criticism of George W. Bush. It was a little straight talk, if you will. “There's a lot of ill will towards Sen. Hagel because when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly,” McCain said. “At one point, he said he was the worst president since Herbert Hoover, said the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War, which is nonsense. He was very ‘anti ’his own party, and people don't forget that.” Let’s be clear: The only reason why Hagel was blocked yesterday was because McCain changed his mind. Just one more senator needed to vote for cloture to clear yesterday’s procedural hurdle. And looking ahead, McCain remains an enigma. He is a key player in the bipartisan push for immigration reform, which the Obama White House views as its top legislative priority this year -- after resolving the budget stalemates. But McCain also has opposed almost all the key legislative matters over the past four years, even those he’s supported in the past. Obama’s two Supreme Court nominees. The DREAM Act. The New START treaty. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. One thing to remember about McCain: He was a sharp thorn in Bush’s side in 43’s first term, but he became more helpful in the second term. Could we see a similar pattern with Obama?

*** Senate Dems offer their proposal to replace the sequester: Also on Capitol Hill yesterday, Senate Democrats unveiled their proposal to ward off the so-called sequester. The New York Times: “Senate Democratic leaders reached agreement Thursday on a $110 billion mix of tax increases and spending cuts to head off automatic spending cuts through the end of the year. But with even some Democrats tepid on the proposal, the chances of a deal before the March 1 deadline have receded. The Democratic proposal would establish a 30-percent minimum tax rate on incomes over $1 million to raise about $54 billion over 10 years” -- the Buffett Rule. “It would raise $1 billion more by subjecting tar sands oil to a tax to pay for oil-spill cleanups and by ending a business tax deduction for the cost of moving equipment overseas.” Folks, there’s little chance of the Buffett Rule surviving; it’s always the first thing in beginning talks and first thing out. That said, this is how you do negotiations. The real key in this Dem offer is the cuts they DID agree to and the oil and gas tax loopholes they offered up. We’re about 60% of the way there, perhaps.   

*** Obama heads to Chicago: Today, Obama heads to his hometown of Chicago, where he gives remarks at 3:45 pm ET. Per the White House, the president will discuss some of the economic proposals from his State of the Union address. But make no mistake, this visit will also be about the gun violence in Chicago. By the way, how can you tell Obama no longer has to worry about being re-elected? He’s heading to Florida for a vacation, where he’ll be getting golf lessons from former Tiger Woods golf coach Butch Harmon, according to Golf Digest

*** On Lautenberg and Booker: Lastly, we learned yesterday that 89-year-old Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) won’t seek re-election in 2014. As our colleague Steve Kornacki asked yesterday, why didn’t Newark Cory Booker wait for this inevitable announcement before saying he’d run for the seat, a move that only alienated Lautenberg and his allies? Booker has shown that he’s very good at the P.R. side of being a politician. But he’s made two big errors in the past year: 1) contradicting Team Obama on its criticism of Mitt Romney’s time at Bain Capital and 2) not waiting to run for the Senate until incumbent Lautenberg made up his mind. By the way, one other overlooked aspect of Lautenberg’s retirement -- he’s the last remaining WWII veteran in the Senate. 

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