Obama rebukes Republicans over Benghazi, backs UN Ambassador Rice

Wed Nov 14, 2012 9:27pm EST
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By Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama told Republican senators on Wednesday that if they had a problem with the handling of the Benghazi attack in Libya, to "go after me" rather than pick on his ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice.

Obama's comments, in a combative tone, came after two senior Republican senators said they would block any attempts by the president to put Rice into a Cabinet position that would require Senate confirmation.

Republicans have criticized Rice for going on a round of Sunday talk shows five days after the September 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi and saying that preliminary information suggested it was the result of protests over an anti-Muslim film rather than a premeditated strike.

The White House has said repeatedly the comments were based on the best information Rice had at the time. But Republicans have used her early assessment as a cudgel for criticizing the administration as not being forthcoming about Benghazi, and the senators' remarks on Wednesday suggested they would pursue the issue even though the U.S. presidential election is over.

"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.

The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in the attack that has raised questions about the security of the diplomatic mission, U.S. intelligence about the threat, and the adequacy of the immediate U.S. response.

The issue has become a sensitive one for the administration after Obama's re-election last week as he shapes his Cabinet for a second term. Rice is considered a possible contender to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who does not intend to stay, or for another top post.

"We will do whatever's necessary to block the nomination that's within our power as far as Susan Rice is concerned," said Republican Senator John McCain, who was joined by fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.   Continued...

U.S. President Barack Obama gestures while addressing his first news conference since his reelection, at the White House in Washington November 14, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque