Republicans have blocked a no-confidence resolution on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The Senate took a procedural vote that fell seven votes short of the 60 needed to cut off a filibuster on the measure.
But the cloture vote did show that more than 50 percent of senators favor rebuking Gonzales.
Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have criticized the attorney general for the way he handled the firings of nine U.S. attorneys. But Senate Republicans dismissed the no-confidence measure as a Democratic political ploy and stopped it from coming to a vote.
Mississippi Republican Trent Lott said the measure is beneath the dignity of the Senate.
"How low will the Senate go?" Lott asked. "If we get into this for hours or days, pity how much it's going to debase this institution even further."
But Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse said the Senate needs to do whatever it can to make its voice heard.
"It may take a decade to repair the damage that Attorney General Gonzales has caused," Whitehouse said.
Several Senate Republicans have called for Gonzales to resign; a number have criticized his leadership.
With reporting from Ari Shapiro.