WASHINGTON - With Republicans balking, the Senate put off a confirmation vote on former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense.
Requiring 60 votes, a move to cut off debate on the nomination failed to pass on a 58-40 vote. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, voted present. The unsuccessful vote ended a contentious day in which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., accused Republicans of filibustering the nomination and Republicans said they didn't have enough time and information to properly vet Hagel.
"The Republicans have made an unfortunate choice to ratchet up the levels of obstruction here in Washington," Reid complained on the Senate floor after the vote. "Just when you thought things couldn't get worse, it gets worse."
Republicans called the vote an unnecessary action and a self-inflicted wound by Democrats.
"This is not any attempt to kill this nomination," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. "This is not a filibuster. I realize that's the headline that the majority leader would like the newspapers to write."
Thursday's action did not scuttle Hagel's nomination, but it could make it more difficult. Another vote to end debate likely will occur when the Senate returns from a weeklong recess, a move that some Republican senators were seeking Thursday afternoon. The additional 10 days could provide Hagel opponents more time to find damaging information that could potentially harm his chances to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
In the meantime, it's likely to be a tense 10 days between the White House and Senate Republicans.
President Obama stood by Hagel on Thursday and chided Republicans for forcing a delay.
"We've never had a secretary of defense filibustered before," Obama said Thursday during an online appearance on Google. He said it was his "expectation and hope" that Hagel will be confirmed, saying that he needs his choice for defense secretary as the U.S. continues to wind down the war in Afghanistan.
Deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Panetta will stay on the job until a new secretary is confirmed.
Led by Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, some senators have raised questions about controversial statements Hagel made in the past about Israel, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and nuclear weapons.