WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama lashed out at senior Republican senators Wednesday over their criticism of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice in the aftermath of the deadly Sept. 11 attack in Libya, saying they should "go after me" and not her.
Setting up a possible Senate confirmation fight, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had vowed shortly before Obama's remarks that he would take all steps necessary to block Rice's nomination if the president taps her to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who joined McCain at a Capitol Hill news conference, said he didn't trust Rice.
A feisty Obama defended his U.N. ambassador.
"If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham, and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me," Obama told reporters at a White House news conference. "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."
Within minutes, Graham's response made clear he wouldn't back down from challenging Rice's nomination.
"Mr. President, don't think for one minute I don't hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi," the South Carolina Republican said in a statement. "I think you failed as commander in chief before, during and after the attack.
"Given what I know now, I have no intention of promoting anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle," he said.
At issue are Rice's Sunday talk show statements five days after the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. She attributed the incident to the outrage in the Arab world over an anti-Muslim video, not terrorism.
The two lawmakers along with Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire pressed for a special, Watergate-style select Senate committee to investigate the attack. They complained that separate inquiries by various Senate panels will fail to get to the truth and a comprehensive probe "up to and including the president of the United States" was warranted.
They introduced a Senate resolution calling for the special committee on Wednesday afternoon, and the measure drew immediate Democratic opposition and some doubts from Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said a select committee is unnecessary, as did Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
The three Republican senators argued that numerous questions about the attack remain unanswered, among them what Obama's national security team had told him about security in Libya, what steps were taken by Clinton and the roll of the U.S. military.