President Obama hasn't picked his nominee to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, but he made clear Wednesday that he doesn't think much of Senate Republicans' warnings that he not choose United Nations envoy Susan Rice.
In his first news conference in eight months, Obama fiercely defended his administration's handling of the attack Sept. 11 on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and pushed back against Sens. John McCain and Lindsay Graham's criticism of Rice's description of the incident.
"If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me," Obama said. "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? To besmirch her reputation is outrageous."
Hours earlier, McCain, R-Ariz., and Graham, R-S.C., as well as Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., called for a Senate investigation of the Benghazi incident, which left Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead. They threatened to block Rice if Obama nominated her to lead the State Department.
At issue are Rice's comments five days after the attack attributing the incident to a spontaneous uprising that was a response to an anti-Muslim video, and not a terrorist attack. U.S. intelligence agencies resolved within a day of the incident that it was a terrorist attack.
"We're all responsible for what we say and what we do. I'm responsible to my voters. She is responsible to the Senate of the United States," McCain said in an interview with CBS This Morning. "If you're going to tell the American people something, you better make damn sure it's true."
The president said Rice, who made her comments based on talking points provided to her by the U.S. intelligence agencies, was not to blame. Obama said he hasn't made any decision about personnel matters but called Rice's work exemplary.
He called out McCain and Graham: "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."
The president said he would nominate Rice if he thought she was the best person for the job, but "that's not a determination that I've made yet."
Other possible contenders for the Cabinet position are Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Obama's national security adviser, Tom Donilon.
Graham fired back at Obama.
"Mr. President, don't think for one minute I don't hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi," he said in a statement. "I think you failed as commander in chief before, during and after the attack.
"We owe it to the American people and the victims of this attack to have full, fair hearings and accountability be assigned where appropriate. Given what I know now, I have no intention of promoting anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle."
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