The US Senate has voted narrowly to block a vote on confirmation of President Barack Obama's choice of Chuck Hagel as defence secretary, planning another vote for Feb 26 - when it is expected to pass.
The tally on Thursday was 58-40, with almost every Republican voting no, falling short of the 60 needed to pass a motion in the 100-seat chamber to stop debate and allow a vote by the full Senate on confirming the former Republican senator to the post.
The Senate's Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, said the Senate would vote again on the motion on February 26, after it returns from a week-long recess. Republicans said they expected the motion would pass then, after they have had more time to consider the nomination, clearing the way for the full Senate to vote on Hagel's confirmation.
With Democrats controlling a majority of 55 votes in the Senate, Hagel's nomination is expected to win the simple
majority of 51 votes it needs to be passed by the full Senate once such a vote is allowed.
Obama reacted to the vote by accusing Republicans of playing politics while the country was at war.
Republicans said they were blocking the confirmation of their former colleague and Vietnam veteran because they wanted more details from the White House on the events surrounding the attack on the US mission in Benghazi last September, in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
Hagel, a Republican, has already faced sharp questioning from his former colleagues over his past positions on Israel, Iran, Iraq and nuclear weapons.
A full Senate vote on Hagel had been expected Friday after Reid filed a motion to end debate. Republican Senator Lamar Alexander said it was Reid who provoked Republicans into the vote by scheduling it too soon.
The Armed Services Committee had just approved the nomination two days before and Republicans were still seeking information from Hagel.
"This is a vote by Republicans to say, 'We want more than two days after this nomination comes to the floor to carefully consider it because we have questions'," Alexander said.