WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Republicans on Monday blocked President Barack Obama's nomination of James Cole as deputy U.S. attorney general, the No. 2 position at the Justice Department and a key job in fighting terrorism.
On a vote of 50 to 40, Obama's fellow Democrats in the Senate fell far short of the needed 60 votes to end a procedural roadblock against the nominee.
In December, Obama sidestepped the Senate when it was not in session and used his power to make a recess appointment of Cole as deputy attorney general. But if not confirmed by the full Senate, the appointment will expire at the end of this year.
The Senate Judiciary Committee initially approved Cole in July, but Republicans denied him a Senate confirmation vote, largely because of his approach to terrorism cases.
Cole has argued that terrorism suspects could be tried in civilian courts rather than military tribunals, a position Republicans oppose.
Democrats said Cole should be confirmed, in part, to fill out Obama's national security team following the killing of Osama bin Laden, which provided U.S. authorities with a crush of new intelligence on suspected terrorist activity.
"We have the opportunity now to set aside partisanship and come together to work with our president to keep America safe," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat.
But Republicans opposed Cole, saying U.S. authorities may never have found bin Laden if they had followed his approach to the treatment of suspected terrorists.
"The American people want a Department of Justice that is committed to enforcing the law and protecting the innocent, not creating new civil rights for terrorists or treating them like ordinary criminals," said Republican Senator John Cornyn.
Prior to Obama's appointment of Cole as deputy attorney general, he had worked since 1995 as a partner at a private law firm in Washington. He joined the firm after 13 years at the Justice Department. (Reporting by Thomas Ferraro and Jeremy Pelofsky; editing by Eric Beech)
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