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Chuck Hagel nomination blocked

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(AP/ABC7) Republicans have, for now, blocked Chuck Hagel's nomination to become defense secretary.

The Senate came up two votes short of the 60 needed to move Hagel's nomination forward as lawmakers prepare to leave town for a week's break. Democrats hold a 55-45 edge in the Senate.

Republicans had been blocking the confirmation of their former colleague and Vietnam veteran until they received information from the White House on President Barack Obama's actions during the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

The White House responded to that request earlier Thursday, saying Obama spoke with Libyans a day after the attack.

There will be another vote on his nomination on Feb. 25.

Reid said it was "shocking" and "tragic" that the GOP would attempt to block Hagel's nomination at a time when the U.S. military is engaged in so many places around the world. "Not a single nominee for secretary of defense ever in the history of our country has been filibustered," he said in a speech on the Senate floor.

Reid said Republicans notified him Wednesday night they would withhold the votes needed to advance Hagel's nomination. Reid said he considered that a "full-scale filibuster" because the Republican strategy would prevent Hagel's nomination from getting the required 60 votes.

Republicans are seeking "extraneous requests" for information that will never be satisfied, Reid said. "The pattern has been clear for months: as soon as President Obama's administration responds to one request, Republicans devise another, more outlandish request," Reid said.

A full Senate vote on Hagel, a former two-term Republican senator from Nebraska and twice-wounded Vietnam veteran, was expected to be held Friday after Reid filed a motion to limit debate. While Democrats hold a 55-45 edge in the Senate and have the numbers to confirm Hagel on a majority vote, they need the support of five Republicans to clear the way for a majority vote.

Two Republicans - Sens. Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns of Nebraska - have announced their support for Hagel. A third, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, has said she will vote against Hagel's confirmation, but would not join in a filibuster to block a final vote.

Graham said Wednesday that he would vote against ending debate on Hagel's nomination.

"There seems to not be much interest to hold this president accountable for a national security breakdown that led to the first ambassador being killed in the line of duty in over 30 years," Graham said. "No, the debate on Chuck Hagel is not over. It has not been serious. We don't have the information we need. And I'm going to fight the idea of jamming somebody through until we get answers about what the president did personally when it came to the Benghazi debacle."

McCain declined to say whether he would try to delay Hagel's confirmation if Obama did not provide an answer. "My position right now is I want an answer to the question," he said.

The nomination of John Brennan as CIA director is also being delayed; the Senate Intelligence Committee is pushing off a vote amid demands that the White House turn over more details about drone strikes against terror suspects and about the Benghazi attacks. Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California said a vote likely will be postponed till late February.

A bitterly divided Armed Services Committee on Tuesday voted to approve Hagel by a 14-11 vote, with all the panel's Democrats backing him. The committee's Republicans were unified in opposition to their onetime colleague, who will succeed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta if he's confirmed.

Obama "stands strongly" behind Hagel and believes he "will do a wonderful job," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said aboard Air Force One en route to Decatur, Ga., where the president traveled Thursday to speak about early childhood education.

If confirmed by the Senate, Hagel, 66, would take charge of the U.S. armed forces at a time of turmoil. Automatic cuts to the Pentagon's budget are looming, American troops in Afghanistan are being halved over the next year, North Korea has tested a nuclear weapon, Iran remains a threat in the Persian Gulf region, and Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Mali and Tunisia all are in a state of unrest.

At a Pentagon award ceremony on Thursday for former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Panetta said it was fitting to recognize her accomplishments on Valentine's Day. And he said the second-best Valentine's Day present would be for the Senate to confirm Hagel and allow Panetta and his wife to "get the hell out of town." He said he's got his belongings packed.

Hagel has faced intense opposition from Republicans, who have challenged his past statements and votes on Israel, Iran, Iraq and nuclear weapons.

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