U.S. Senate leaders have postponed a confirmation vote on Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice until next week, after Democrats demanded more time to debate the nomination.
Just hours after President Bush took the oath of office for a second term on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, Senate Democrats refused to move forward with the scheduled confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state without an extended debate on the nomination.
Republicans, who had hoped Democrats would begin a new congressional session with a spirit of bipartisanship, were not happy.
"We had hoped and expected to consider the president's appointment of Condoleezza Rice to be secretary of state, but I understand there is an objection on the other side to moving to that today, unfortunately," said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on the Senate floor.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada says Democrats have no intention of blocking the nomination, and he acknowledged Ms. Rice is expected to be easily confirmed. Senator Reid says Democrats only want time to debate the nomination.
"It certainly does not seem untoward in any way that the senators have time to speak on this most important nomination," he said.
Senate leaders scheduled a full day of debate on the nomination next Tuesday, with a confirmation vote on Wednesday.
Democrats are expected to use the occasion to criticize the Bush administration's handling of Iraq.
During Ms. Rice's confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this week, Democrats accused the administration of not being candid with the American people on the costs of the war in Iraq and the rationale for invading that country.
The delay in Ms. Rice's confirmation means that outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell will have to stay on the job longer than expected. Mr. Powell is to travel to Ukraine to attend the inauguration of President-elect Viktor Yushchenko Sunday in a show of U.S. support for the West-leaning leader.
Although the Senate postponed the vote on Ms. Rice's nomination, senators did vote to confirm Margaret Spellings as secretary of education and Mike Johanns as secretary of agriculture.
As a new congressional session gets under way, opposition Democrats say they want to cooperate with the president in solving the country's problems. But they also make clear they will oppose policies that run counter to their party's priorities.
"We will work with the president," said Senate Democratic Leader Reid. "But I do say this: we are not going to shy away from living up to the values and priorities that we believe are important in our country today."
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi sounded an even more partisan tone, pledging in a letter to party donors to "do everything in my power to fight the extremist Republican's destructive agenda."
Besides keeping the pressure on Mr. Bush over his Iraq policy, Democrats are planning to fight a number of the president's domestic proposals, including reforming the Social Security retirement system.