WASHINGTON - The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday approved President Obama's nominee for U.S. ambassador to Libya, a post that has been vacant since insurgents attacked the diplomatic mission in Benghazi in September, killing Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

With little discussion, the panel on a voice vote approved Deborah Kay Jones, a career diplomat who has served in Kuwait, Argentina, Syria, Iraq and Turkey.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), chairman of the committee, praised Jones and spoke of the imperative of filling the job amid increasing lawlessness in Libya. On Monday, a car bomb exploded near a hospital in Benghazi and officials gave conflicting numbers on the death toll.

"There is simply no substitute for having a confirmed U.S. ambassador on the ground, reaching outside the wire to the Libyan people as they shape a safer, more productive and inclusive future," Menendez said.

At her confirmation hearing earlier this month, Jones promised to work to ensure sufficient security at U.S. facilities, saying the ambassador was the principal security officer and vowing to call Washington if she felt security was lax.

If confirmed by the full Senate, Jones would take over an ambassadorship that has been vacant for nearly eight months.

The Obama administration's response to the attacks has been the subject of a bitter dispute with congressional Republicans. The GOP has accused the administration of trying to cover up details of the assault and its aftermath.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) ratcheted up the political criticism on Tuesday.

"It's about smear politics and nothing else," Reid told reporters.