The Hagel Not-Filibuster

Republicans aren’t going to filibuster the confirmation of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. They’re just going to make Democrats put 60 votes on the board to close debate. Is there a difference? Well, sort of.

A filibuster, as Rachel Weiner of the Washington Post points out, depends on a credible threat. Republicans don’t have one, since several Hagel opponents–McCain, Collins, and others–don’t want to filibuster a Cabinet nominee on principle (Democrats will accuse them of going along with a filibuster on Hagel regardless).

So, barring some last-minute switches, Republicans know they may not have the 41 votes needed to stop the Hagel confirmation from coming to a vote this week. (Though Sen. Roy Blunt seems to think they do–perhaps he has a few Democrats to fill in for dissenting Republicans?) But they are going to make every Senator who backs Hagel defend that vote. There will be no freebies–no Democrats who get to vote the other way to please a local constituency once it’s clear that Hagel has the majority he needs. Hagel’s opponents cannot get to “no”–not yet. But they are raising the price of “yes.” That’s not a filibuster, but it will certainly cost just as much.

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