Capitol Hill Republicans fired back quickly at President Barack Obama’s strong defense of U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice in his first news conference since last week’s election — saying that Obama’s rumored nominee for Secretary of State was unfit for the job in light of her early comments on the cause of the Sept. 11 attacks that killed four Americans.
Obama called the GOP attacks on Rice “outrageous” and were occurring solely because Rice was “an easy target.”
“Mr. President, don’t think for one minute I don’t hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said immediately after the session with reporters at the White House ended on Wednesday. “You failed as Commander-in-Chief before, during, and after the attack.
Graham and Arizona Sen. John McCain earlier Wednesday called for Watergate-style hearings into the assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
“We owe it to the American people and the victims of this attack to have full, fair hearings and accountability be assigned where appropriate,” Graham said. “Given what I know now, I have no intention of promoting anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle.”
In what was perhaps the most explosive moment during the news conference, Obama defended Rice’s service as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and during her early response to the Benghazi attack.
Rice appeared on all the Sunday morning talk shows saying that the assault began as a peaceful demonstration in response to an anti-Muslim film made by a California real estate developer that was overtaken by militants.
While President Obama declined to comment on whether he would nominate Rice as Secretary of State after Hillary Clinton steps down, he said that Rice “has done exemplary work. She has represented the United States and our interests in the United Nations with skill and professionalism and toughness and grace.
“As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her. If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them.
“But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received and to besmirch her reputation, is outrageous,” Obama said.
Obama later added, referring to Rice’s critics: “But when they go after the U.N. Ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me. And should I choose — if I think that she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity — the State Department, then I will nominate her. That’s not a determination that I’ve made yet.”
Rice’s possible nomination as Secretary of State also was attacked by Oklahoma GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe, the senior member of Senate Armed Services Committee and member of Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Susan Rice would not be a fitting replacement at the State Department should Secretary Clinton step down,” Inhofe said in a statement. “During her time as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Rice has been the Obama administration’s point person in pursuing liberal causes that threaten U.S. sovereignty.
“She has also not been an effective diplomat or manager at the U.N. as evidenced by her failure to persuade Russia and China to join the U.S. in reining in Iran’s nuclear ambitions, stop the bloody civil war in Syria and halt North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
“In addition, I find her position on Israel-Palestine relations concerning, especially her reluctant efforts last October to enforce the legislatively mandated cutting off of aid to the United Nations Educational, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) when it extended membership to the Palestinian Authority before the PA was recognized as a full U.N. member.
“At that time, Ambassador Rice, while acknowledging the law, furiously tried to push millions of taxpayer dollars out the door of the State Department to UNESCO before the law was due to take effect.
“Finally, and most disturbingly, she played a key role in keeping the truth about the Sept. 11 Benghazi attacks from the American people.
“Such a poor record of leadership, management and judgment lead me to oppose Susan Rice as a possible nominee for the State Department,” Inhofe said.
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