In a rare procedural maneuver, Senate Republicans voted to block President Obama's controversial nominee to become the nation's next defense secretary.
Republicans said they were not ready to conclude debate on the nomination because they need more time to review the background of former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican who has made controversial statements about Israel and Iran and who delivered a lackluster performance at his confirmation hearing earlier this month.
Complicating Hagel's prospects, just hours before the vote the contents of a 2008 speech surfaced in which the former Nebraska senator and decorated Vietnam War vet took a soft stance on Iran's threat to Israel, saying there is "no need" for the United States to assist Israel, even if it is attacked by Iran.
In another widely reported interview, he suggested a "Jewish lobby" is intimidating Congress.
Democrats Thursday refused the extra time requested by Republicans to review Hagel's nomination and instead called for the vote to cut off debate. The move by the Democrats led to the filibuster. When Republicans employed the maneuver, Democrats swiftly accused them of denying the nation a defense secretary as it faces multiple serious threats around the globe.
Still, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, did not cancel next week's planned Senate recess in order to keep debating the matter, though he suggested it may be a dangerous time without a new defense secretary on the job.
"No one knows, especially any of us senators, what foreign challenge will face this country, perhaps within the next 10 days," Reid said in a floor statement admonishing Republicans. "It would be nice if we had a secretary of defense."
The current defense secretary, Leon Panetta, said he plans to remain on the job until his replacement is sworn in. But Reid said that wouldn't do, calling Panetta, "about as lame a duck as can be."
The Senate voted 58-40 to end debate on Hagel's nomination, falling 2 votes shy of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.
Democrats control just 55 votes, so they needed the help of some Republicans to move to a final vote on Hagel, but the GOP wasn't prepared to give it.
"Yes his character is wonderful, we love the guy, he served his country, the problem is the stances he has taken," Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he believed Republicans would have been willing to vote to end debate on Hagel next week after having the additional time.
But McCain, in a scathing floor speech, said he ultimately would not vote to confirm him.
"His positions on the principal national security issues facing our country, the Iranian nuclear program, resurgent Islamist terrorist threat in North Africa and the Middle East, and more broadly, whether we should maintain our ability to project strength in defending our interests and allies, indicate to me a disqualifying lack of professional judgement," McCain said.
The fight over Hagel, meanwhile, helped Republicans coax more information out of the White House about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012 that left the ambassador and three other Americans dead.
In an afternoon press conference, McCain and Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said they learned President Obama made no contact with the Libyan government until the day after the attack. If he had called the day before, the three senators said, he could have helped U.S. forces gain access to the site of the attack and perhaps save lives.