Despite a "full-court press" from the White House and new Senate rules that make surpassing procedural votes easier, Republicans and a handful of Democrats succeeded in blocking President Obama's pick to head the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.
Vice President Joe Biden presided over the losing vote that saw the nomination of Debo Adegbile go down. Biden was on hand to fulfill his constitutional duty of breaking a tie, but the vote wasn't even close, failing 47-52. Eight Democrats voted with Republicans, who recently mounted an effort of their own to block Adegbile. (Majority Leader Harry Reid voted against the nomination for procedural reasons.)
The vote represents a disappointment — if not an embarrassment — for Senate Democrats, who since the rules changed in November no longer have to reach a three-fifths majority to advance nominees.
Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin of Illinois, the party's chief whip, said that he and the White House had been lobbying members behind the scenes to support the nominee, but that law-enforcement groups, which opposed Adegbile, proved more influential.
"It was a full-court press from the White House," Durbin said. "And we worked with them in whipping this. I'm very disappointed."
Durbin disputed the notion that if he had more time to whip the vote the confirmation would have advanced. He said he had been working behind the scenes, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota also spoke to the caucus behind closed doors.
"The decision [to hold the vote] was made before," Durbin said. "And it was made with the White House understanding, with the nominee understanding, and he said, 'Let's go forward with the vote,' and I respect him."
The case against Adegbile boiled down to his support of Mumia Abu-Jamal--convicted of the 1981 killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner--whom Adegbile defended when he headed the NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Reid filed a motion to reconsider the nomination but did not say when he might bring it up for another vote.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect tally on Adegbile's nomination; the vote was 47-52.