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Republicans succeeded Thursday in blocking a vote on Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s defense secretary nominee, by launching the first filibuster in history against a president’s choice to fill the Pentagon’s top civilian post.

GOP senators said they are delaying the confirmation in order to have more time to study Mr. Hagel’s record and to obtain more information on the White House’s handling of the September attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, a matter on which they accuse the administration of stonewalling or providing wrong information. Republicans expect they will green-light him later this month after the chamber returns from a weeklong vacation.

Still, the filibuster is a stark move against a man who just four years ago was a Republican senator from Nebraska — meaning the senators are blocking one of their former colleagues.

The 58-40 Senate vote — just short of the three-fifths majority needed to end the filibuster — drew a furious response from the White House, which said Republicans were “playing politics” with the Defense Department and with Mr. Hagel, who was wounded serving as an enlisted combat soldier in Vietnam.

“Allow this war hero an up-or-down vote, and let our troops have the secretary of defense they deserve,” press secretary Jay Carney said after the vote.

Some Republicans said they were withholding support to try to pry loose information from the White House, while others said they want more responses from Mr. Hagel. They also questioned why Democrats were moving so quickly on a nominee approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee on a party-line vote two days earlier.