Mitt Romney accused Vice President Joe Biden of “doubling down on denial” over the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, as the White House defended its response to the assault that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
Speaking yesterday to voters in Richmond, Virginia, the Republican presidential nominee chastised Biden for his defense during this week’s debate of the administration’s actions. Romney said the vice president’s argument contradicted sworn testimony by State Department officials.
“He’s doubling down on denial, and we need to understand exactly what happened as opposed to just having people brush this aside,” Romney said.
During the Oct. 11 debate, Biden said the White House wasn’t told of a request for additional security at the mission in Benghazi a month before the incident. “We did not know they wanted more security,” Biden said.
State Department official Eric Nordstrom, who served as a regional security officer in Tripoli until July, told a congressional committee this week that he was turned down when he requested that a 16-member security support team that was scheduled to leave Libya in August be extended. Another department official, Charlene Lamb, deputy assistant secretary for international programs, told the hearing that she had refused the requests.
White House press secretary Jay Carney, repeatedly questioned at yesterday’s regular briefing over Biden’s statement, said pleas for more security are handled at the State Department. Asked to clarify Biden’s comment about the administration’s knowledge of the security request, Carney said the vice president was only referring to himself and the president.
Matters of staffing at U.S. consulates around the world are “appropriately discussed and decided upon at the State Department,” Carney said.
The dispute is part of an effort by Republicans to push foreign policy to the forefront of a campaign that has been largely about domestic economic issues. While polls show President Barack Obama leading Romney on foreign policy issues, Republicans see an opportunity to narrow that gap, pointing to polls showing voters have grown less satisfied since the Sept. 11 Benghazi assault.
Romney was campaigning across Ohio, joining Ryan for an evening rally in the central part of the state.
At the outdoor event in Lancaster, Ryan tied the conflicts abroad to the struggling economy at home.
“When hotspots are growing abroad, the economy is not growing here,” he told supporters, who filled the small town square and surrounding streets.
Biden, meanwhile, traveled to Ryan’s home state to reinforce the differences between the two parties on Afghanistan, abortion rights and taxes.
While Biden praised Ryan at the University of Wisconsin in La Crosse as “a decent guy” and family man, he said the debate left no doubt “we have a fundamentally different vision for America, a fundamentally different value set.”
Biden’s trip to Wisconsin follows a visit by Obama on Sept. 23, as the Democratic campaign seeks to ensure that it doesn’t lose a reliably Democratic state to a Republican ticket that has a native son as presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s running mate. A CBS News/New York Times/Quinnipiac University poll conducted Oct. 4-9 showed Obama ahead 50 percent to 47 percent, down from 51 percent to 45 percent the month before.
Romney praised the performance of his running mate in the debate, with a dig at Biden’s reactions, which included eye-rolling and chuckles as Ryan spoke.
“There was one person on stage last night who was thoughtful and respectful, steady and poised,” he said. “The kind of person you want to turn to in a crisis, and that was the next vice president of the United States, Paul Ryan.”
Biden, seeking to repair damage done by Obama’s subdued debate last week, struck an assertive tone last night as he smirked and talked over the 42-year-old congressman. Ryan hit back with statistics and a series of attacks on the administration’s economic and international policies.
Ryan declined to give any post-debate analysis to reporters on the morning after as he and his family entered Josie’s, a Lexington, Kentucky, restaurant, for breakfast.
“I feel great,” Ryan said.
Inside, seated with his wife and three children, the Republican vice presidential nominee said he had anticipated Biden’s aggressive performance.
The focus of both sides now turns to the next presidential debate, scheduled for Oct. 16 in Hempstead, New York. Obama is spending the weekend and early next week preparing in Williamsburg, Virginia, while Romney plans to campaign in Ohio with Ryan before heading home to Massachusetts for his own practice sessions.