Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Thursday blasted Republicans for their plan to filibuster a vote to confirm former Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense. 
Republicans have told Reid they plan to filibuster the vote, scheduled for Friday, unless President Barack Obama releases more information on the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Politico reported
Reid said the issue is further complicated by the fact that the current secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, left his post Thursday afternoon.
"We do not have, at 12 o'clock today, a secretary of defense," Reid said. "It's tragic they've decided to filibuster this qualified nominee -- it is really unfortunate."
Panetta said he plans to stay on duty until Hagel is confirmed; however, Hagel will likely be absent from a NATO meeting next week, during which the Afghanistan war will be discussed, The Hill reported.
"Next week there is a defense ministerial meeting in Brussels, where the U.S. will meet with our allies, who are making important contributions to our effort in Afghanistan, to talk about the transition in Afghanistan," White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One. "We need our new defense secretary to be there. It does not send a favorable signal for Republicans in the United States Senate to delay a vote on the president's nominee, a nominee who's a member of their own party. It's difficult to explain to our allies exactly why that's happening."
Earnest said President Barack Obama is standing behind his nomination of Hagel, despite criticism from Republicans.
"The president stands strongly behind Senator Hagel. The president believes that Senator Hagel would do a wonderful job in a very important role, which is leading the Department of Defense at a challenging time for our country," Earnest said.
To move on from a debate on the nominee to a confirmation vote, Hagel needs 60-vote majority, and he then a 51-vote majority to be confirmed.
There are 55 Democrats in the Senate and two Republicans are supporting Hagel. Another Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, said she would oppose Hagel's confirmation but would not support a filibuster . But that still leaves Democrats two votes short of cloture.