Senate Democrats were unable to coerce enough Republicans to cross party lines and back the nomination for Hagel, R-Neb. Republican leaders said they'd vote to cut off debate Hagel's nomination when they return from recess later this month.
The White House said it was frustrated that, with lawmakers in recess, the new defense secretary wouldn't be able to meet in Brussels next week for a NATO conference on Afghanistan.
"Senate Republicans put political posturing ahead of our nation's security," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.
Republican leaders said they held back on Hagel while they waited for the White House to release information regarding last year's attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The White House responded to a request from Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., about President Barack Obama's action on Benghazi.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said a roll call vote for Hagel would take place Feb. 26.
Retiring Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta gave what he said was his last news conference this week from the Pentagon. He's pledged to stay on until Hagel is confirmed, however. He said he'd attend next week's NATO conference.