Republicans snub White House, delay Hagel vote

US Senate Republicans ignored a White House demand for a vote to confirm President Barack Obama's pick for defense chief, throwing up a roadblock at a time of rising national security tensions.

Democrats fell one vote short of overcoming the procedural delay and clearing the way for final consideration of Chuck Hagel. Republicans had sought more time to receive and study responses to questions that they said remained unanswered.

The delay means the confirmation vote for Hagel, a former Republican senator, will most likely happen some 10 days from now after a one-week Senate recess.

Obama called the move "unfortunate," while furious Senate Democrats insisted their rivals were more concerned with political point-scoring than ensuring the defense department was adequately represented.

Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the floor immediately after the vote to rail against the move, which he saw as "embarrassing the president" at a time of strain in the Middle East, ongoing war in Afghanistan and North Korea recently testing a nuclear device.

In a separate statement, Reid expressed bafflement about what he described as "one of the saddest spectacles I have witnessed in my 27 years in the Senate."

The defeat does not doom Hagel's nomination to lead the Pentagon in Obama's second term, and Reid has already said he would call another procedural vote on February 26, the first working day after next week's break.

"I think we all need to take a deep breath," a White House official said on condition of anonymity.

"Senator Hagel is going to be confirmed, if not tomorrow then when the Senate returns from recess."

Before allowing a vote, Republicans had demanded more information on Hagel's finances and on Obama's role in responding to an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya last year.

Reid responded by trying to force a vote on the nomination. With Democrats holding a 55-45 edge in the Senate, he needed five Republicans to get to the 60 votes needed to overcome the blocking tactics. He got just four.

Without such a filibuster, presidential nominations require a simple majority of senators in the 100-seat chamber -- a barrier Hagel is virtually assured of surpassing.

Obama said it was the first time ever that a defense secretary nominee was filibustered.

But in a "Google fireside hangout" filmed at the White House, he said "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."

The delay could cause allies to worry.

"It's just kind of unfortunate that this kind of politics intrudes at a time when I am still presiding over a war in Afghanistan and I need a secretary of defense who is coordinating with our allies to make sure our troops are getting the kind of strategy and mission that they deserve," Obama said.

The White House said Hagel had been expected to appear at a NATO ministerial meeting next week in Brussels to discuss the pull-out from Afghanistan.

Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had already announced plans to leave Washington and return to California, but Pentagon spokesman George Little said Panetta "will attend the NATO Ministerial in Brussels next week and will continue to carry out his duties as secretary of defense."

Reid accused Republicans of acting like children over Hagel, saying it was "shocking" they would do so while the United States was at war.

Hagel's hope to eventually overcome the filibuster later this month appear to rest with his one-time friend and colleague Senator John McCain, who eviscerated him in a confirmation hearing and voted Thursday for the delay.

McCain and his fellow Republican hawk Senator Lindsey Graham both said they would drop the delaying tactics after the break.

Both men Thursday got a letter from the White House with new details of Obama's actions on the night of the attack by militants on the consulate in Benghazi which killed four Americans.

It confirmed that then secretary of state Hillary Clinton had called Mohammed Megaryef, president of the Libyan national assembly, on the night of the Benghazi attack but Obama had not.

Graham had argued that the extra weight of a demand by the US president, at a time when the consulate was under siege, might have mobilized Libyan forces more quickly and saved some American lives.

Several Republicans have taken issue with Hagel's public stances in recent years on Iran, nuclear weapons, Israel and the US.

  • Look, don't touch: Flickr photo of the day 1 hour 33 minutes ago
    Look, don't touch: Flickr photo of the day

    If there's one car that's particularly sought-after among today's well-heeled car collectors, a Ferrari 250 would be it. Usually it's the GTO variant, like the 1963 that sold for a record $52 million last year. A 250 of any sorts demands unfathomable cash, however, which is why we can but gawk at this 250 Testa Rossa. It's as close as any mere mortal will ever come to owning one.

  • Peeling out at Octane Academy, the free driving school for Ford ST owners 2 hours 29 minutes ago
    Peeling out at Octane Academy, the free driving school for Ford ST owners

    Buyers of Ferraris or Jaguars are used to perks from manufacturers – including racetrack lessons to help master their exotic machines. But for enthusiasts on a tighter budget, the Ford ST Octane Academy might be the sweetest deal in motoring: Buy a Ford Fiesta ST or Focus ST hatchback, and the reward is a free day of training at one of America’s longest, most-lavish road courses.

  • Why you can't buy America's greenest car 5 hours ago
    Why you can't buy America's greenest car

    Ask me or any auto expert what's the fastest car you can buy for any given amount, and we could easily cough up several options. Same for most luxurious, or off-roadable, or any other measurement. Yet there's one type of question that's far harder to answer: What's the greenest, most environmentally friendly car you can buy today?

  • Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia
    Pirates kidnap three on Singapore tanker off Malaysia

    Armed pirates boarded a Singapore-managed oil tanker in the Strait of Malacca, kidnapping three Indonesian crew and stealing some of the vessel's shipment of diesel fuel, the International Maritime Bureau said Wednesday. The attack occurred early Tuesday off Malaysia's west coast, said Noel Choong, head of IMB's Kuala Lumpur-based piracy reporting centre. The diesel oil tanker was believed to be en route to Myanmar. "IMB is aware of the attack on the Singapore-managed ship in the Malacca Straits.

  • McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania
    McDonald's Hello Kitty sale site temporarily suspended due to fresh wave of Kitty mania

    It may not be safe to enter a McDonald’s restaurant in Singapore on Mondays starting 28 April. To celebrate the iconic Japanese character Hello Kitty’s 40th anniversary, the fast food chain announced last Friday that it would be releasing a new collection of Hello Kitty toys in McDonald’s restaurants island wide next Monday.

  • First sign of S.Korea ferry disaster was call from a frightened boy
    First sign of S.Korea ferry disaster was call from a frightened boy

    He called the emergency 119 number which put him through to the fire service, which in turn forwarded him to the coastguard two minutes later. That was followed by about 20 other calls from children on board the ship to the emergency number, a fire service officer told Reuters.