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United States

US Republicans block Hagel defense secretary vote

The nomination of Chuck Hagel as the next US defense secretary is in jeopardy. Republican lawmakers have blocked the vote and are asking to be given more information on the deadly attacks last September in Libya.

Senate Republicans succeeded Thursday in delaying the confirmation of Hagel to be the next defense secretary. The tally finished 58-40, with almost every Republican voting no, falling short of the 60 needed to pass a motion to stop debate and allow a confirmation vote in the Senate.

The battle over the vote on Hagel is just one of many being fought at the moment between US President Barack Obama's Democrats and the Republicans in Congress, with other issues such as immigration, gun control and the economy being discussed.

Senate Republicans have asked the Obama administration for more information on the assault on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last year that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, has labeled the move as unprecedented.

"I am going to call Chuck Hagel when I finish here and say I'm sorry, I'm sorry this happened," Reid said on the Senate floor after the vote.

It is the first time such a blocking technique, known as a filibuster, has been used to prevent a vote on a defense secretary nominee. Reid has accused Republicans of trying to score political points, saying it was time to "put aside political theater."

"Senate Republicans have made it clear they intend to mount a full-scale filibuster, and block the Senate from holding a final passage vote on Senator Hagel's nomination," he said.

"Make no mistake: Republicans are trying to defeat Senator Hagel's nomination by filibustering while submitting extraneous requests that will never be satisfied," Reid said.

The White House has labeled the Republicans' move "unconscionable," calling on them to end the delay. In response, it released some details about Obama's actions following the attack in Benghazi on September 11 last year.

The White House said Obama did not speak to any Libyan government officials until the night after the attack. In a letter to three Republican senators, White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, said former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the president of Libya, Mohamed Magariaf, on Obama's behalf on September 11. Ruemmler said this was to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya. She said Obama telephoned Magariaf on the evening of September 12.

Opposition to Hagel

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted 14-11 to approve Hagel on Tuesday. However the vote was bitterly divided, with all the panel's Democrats in support but the committee's Republicans unified in opposition to their onetime colleague.

Hagel, 66, has been criticized by some members of his own party for not being sufficiently supportive of Israel and tough on Iran. The twice-wounded Vietnam War combat veteran has often dissented with his conservative party on defense and foreign policy.

A White House spokesman said Obama stands behind his nominee.

"The president believes Senator Hagel will do a wonderful job in a very important role, which is leading the Department of Defense at a challenging time for our country. We need our new secretary of defense in place," said Josh Earnest.

Earnest noted that the new defense secretary would be needed next week at a defense ministers meeting in Brussels, where the transition in Afghanistan will be discussed.

jr/kms (AP, dpa, Reuters)