Obama Tells Republicans ‘Go After Me’ Instead of Rice

U.S. President Barack Obama
Barack Obama, U.S. president. Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

President Barack Obama chastised two Republican senators for threatening to block UN Ambassador Susan Rice as a potential nominee for secretary of state, saying she had “nothing to do” with circumstances involving the death of four Americans in an attack in Libya in September.

If the senators want to go after someone in this administration, “they should go after me,” Obama said today at a White House news conference. He said “to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.”

While declining to say whom he’s considering for Cabinet posts in his second term, Obama said that if he decides Rice is the best candidate to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “then I will nominate her.”

Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said today that they would seek to block a Rice nomination, citing her comments days after the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Rice, 47, said on Sunday television talk shows on Sept. 16 that the assault began as a spontaneous protest that was “hijacked” by militants. Republicans have questioned whether Rice was trying to conceal that terrorists were behind the assault.

“She gave her best understanding” of the intelligence that had been provided to her, Obama said today.

“If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me,” Obama said.

Rice has done “exemplary work” and represented the U.S. at the UN “with skill and professionalism and toughness and grace,” Obama said.

Whatever Necessary

At a news conference today calling for a special Senate committee to probe the Benghazi attack, McCain said, “We will do whatever is necessary to block the nomination that is within our power as far as Susan Rice is concerned.”

Graham said Rice is “so disconnected from reality I don’t trust her,” adding moments later that “somebody has got to start paying a price around this place.”

Graham also said Rice failed in her role as UN ambassador.

“I don’t think we’re doing very well in the UN, quite frankly,” he said. “Not only did we not do a good job with Libya, but since then China and Russia have been walking all over us. I’m not so sure she’s the strongest advocate.”

‘Totally Unprepared’

After Obama’s remarks, McCain, Graham and Senator Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, made their case on the Senate floor for a select panel. McCain took on Obama for what he said were contradictory assessments of an attack perpetrated by terrorists.

“The president of the United States did not tell the American people the truth about the attacks that took four brave Americans’ lives that went on for seven hours, for which we were totally unprepared,” he said.

Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, said today they would oppose a select committee. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan called the idea premature, citing inquiries already under way by congressional panels.

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