US Republicans delay Hagel's appointment
Updated: 2013-02-16 09:12
Senators want more information about Benghazi attack first
The White House on Thursday demanded a vote to confirm President Barack Obama's pick for Pentagon chief this week and accused Republicans of sending a bad signal to US allies by delaying his appointment.
As the political standoff escalated, a top Democrat said his party may not have the votes to drive through Hagel's nomination as defense secretary before the Senate goes into a weeklong recess.
White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said the delay had jeopardized Hagel's planned appearance at a NATO ministerial meeting next week in Brussels, with NATO powers to discuss the pullout from Afghanistan.
"It is difficult to explain to our allies exactly why that is happening. It also sends a signal to our men and women in uniform," Earnest said.
"We need our new defense secretary to be there," he said, branding the Republican procedural tactics "unconscionable".
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 that killed the US ambassador and three other US citizens.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, responded by trying to force a vote on the nomination, but he will need five Republicans to get to the 60 votes needed to overcome the blocking tactics.
Without such a filibuster, presidential nominations require a simple majority of senators in the 100-seat chamber - a barrier Hagel is almost sure to surpass.
Reid accused Republicans of acting like children over Hagel, saying it was "shocking" they would do so while the US was at war.
"The filibuster of senator Hagel's nomination is unprecedented," Reid said. "For the sake of our national security, it's time to put aside this political theater - and that's what it is."
Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told AFP that it was unclear whether Hagel will get the 60 votes this week.
"We don't know. ... You're never sure until the vote," said Levin.