Republican lawmakers succeeded on Thursday in delaying a Senate vote on confirming President Barack Obama’s choice of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, but another vote was planned for later in the month and Obama said he expected his nominee to be approved.
The tally was 58-40, with almost every Republican voting no, falling short of the 60 needed to pass a motion to stop debate and allow a vote by the full Senate on confirming the former Republican senator.
The result delayed, but did not end, Hagel’s hopes of becoming the civilian chief at the Pentagon.
Democrats were furious at the delay, which they characterized as the first time in history that the procedural tactic known as a filibuster had been used to block a defense nominee, something disputed by Republicans.
“I’m going to go call Chuck Hagel when I finish here and say I’m sorry, I’m sorry this has happened,” the Senate majority leader, Democrat Harry Reid said on the Senate floor after the vote.
Charging the opposition party with trying to score political points against Obama’s White House, Democrats said Republicans were putting the country at risk by delaying the filling of a major security post.
“My expectation and hope is that Chuck Hagel, who richly deserves to get a vote on the floor of the Senate, will be confirmed as our defense secretary,” Obama said in an Internet question-and-answer session hosted by Google+. “It’s just unfortunate that this kind of politics intrudes at a time when I’m still presiding over a war in Afghanistan.”
Republicans insisted they were not using a filibuster and not trying to kill the nomination, which has faced bitter opposition since Obama picked Hagel on Jan. 7.
John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said that Republicans just wanted more time and more information from Hagel.