In a vivid display of President Obama's diminished clout, the Senate's newest Republican and two veteran Democrats Tuesday helped block Mr. Obama's bid to fill a key labor post with a nominee they considered too cozy with unions.
With newly seated Sen. Scott Brown, Massachusetts Republican, voting to sustain the filibuster, Senate Democratic leaders failed to muster the 60 votes needed to force a vote on the nomination of Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board, which resolves disputes between unions and management.
Dubbed a friend of organized labor, Mr. Becker had been fiercely opposed by business and employer groups, who feared his support for the proposed Employee Free Choice Act, called "card check," which would give unions a stronger hand in organizing employees. Republicans strongly oppose the legislation, which could come up for a vote in the Senate later this year.
Mr. Brown gave Senate Republicans the 41st vote needed to sustain filibusters, but two moderate Democrats - Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska - also deserted Mr. Obama on the politically sensitive vote. The final tally was 52-33 in favor of a vote on the nomination, eight short of the 60 votes need to proceed.
Mr. Becker, who was first nominated in July, is an attorney for the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union.
"A review of decades of writings by Mr. Becker have revealed that he has advocated for the most radical theories of labor law," said Sen. Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican and ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. "In addition to his writings, Mr. Becker has spent the majority of his career serving as counsel to the two largest labor organizations in America, which has raised questions about his ability to fairly adjudicate cases involving those unions."
Republicans said Mr. Becker's previous statements suggest he supports limiting employers' right to argue against unionization and supports "mandatory unionization." Mr. Becker said neither is true.
The AFL-CIO accused Republicans of putting political interests ahead of working Americans by blocking the NLRB's work.
"For more than two years, the NLRB has had only two of its five members," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. "Without a fully staffed NLRB, working families face a major disadvantage in winning justice in the workplace."
Backed by pro-business groups such as the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Republicans had held up Mr. Becker's nomination for months over concern that he would push an aggressive pro-union agenda on the board.
Democrats said Republicans were unfairly siding with management and questioned why Mr. Becker received more than 400 questions from Congress - more than Sonia Sotomayor during her confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court.
"These loud assertions have no basis in reality," said Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and chairman of the labor committee, said of the Republicans' concerns. "Mr. Becker has gone to great pains to rebut the characterizations."
All Democrats who voted on Tuesday, except for Mr. Nelson and Mrs. Lincoln, voted to move forward with Mr. Becker's nomination. All Republicans opposed the nomination. Fifteen senators did not cast a vote as a second-round snowstorm began in Washington on Tuesday.
The vote was one of the first since Mr. Brown was sworn into office last week, breaking Democrats' supermajority and prompting lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to declare a new era of bipartisanship. And it came just a few hours after Mr. Obama held a meeting of Republican and Democratic congressional leaders at the White House.
But it was clear that mood was lost on Tuesday afternoon. Mr. Enzi accused Democrats of trying to "jam through partisan, controversial nominees." Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, called the debate over Mr. Becker's nomination "warfare."