|Hill GOP leaves Romney out on limb on Libya
By: Scott Wong
September 12, 2012 10:56 AM EDT
|Senior Republicans on Capitol Hill are leaving GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney out on a limb after he criticized President Barack Obama’s “disgraceful” handling of the assault on the U.S. embassy in Libya, which led to the death of U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens.(Also on POLITICO: Romney blasts Obama ‘apology’)
Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee who personally knew Stevens, refused to assign any blame to the Obama administration.
“My heart is with Mr. Stevens, my former staff member, my friend,” Lugar told POLITICO on Wednesday. As a Pearson Fellow to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Stevens served as a staffer for Lugar in 2006. Lugar helped shepherd Stevens’s nomination as ambassador through his panel earlier this year.
“I’m not going to make any comment about the political. None,” the senator added.
While Romney was very critical of Obama in a morning statement on the Libya attacks, senior Republicans across the board avoided criticizing the administration shortly after Stevens’ death was announced.
Obama didn’t even get a mention in most GOP press statements blasted Wednesday morning.
“We mourn for the families of our countrymen in Benghazi, and condemn this horrific attack,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement Wednesday.
“Eleven years after September 11, this is a jolting reminder that freedom remains under siege by forces around the globe who relish violence over free expression, and terror over democracy — and that America and free people everywhere must remain vigilant in defense of our liberties.”
Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also declined to invoke Obama, signaling that for a second day in a row this was a time for Americans to come together and put election-year politics on hold. On Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats gathered on the steps of the Capitol to mark the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“Our thoughts and sympathy today are with the families of these brave Americans,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on the Senate floor. “These attacks remind us of the sacrifices made on a daily basis by foreign service officers, diplomatic security personnel, and our Marine Security Guards.”
Three of the most important voices on foreign policy — Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) — said they were “anguished and outraged” by the deaths of American diplomats, and considered Stevens a “friend.” But they, too, didn’t see fit to criticize the president the way Romney did.
“In the midst of last year’s uprising in Libya, Chris traveled at great personal risk to Benghazi to represent the country he loved as the U.S. envoy to the Libyan opposition,” the senators said in a joint statement.
“He advanced American interests and values in Libya and stood with the Libyan people throughout their struggle for freedom and during the challenging times that followed. His death at the hands of extremists is a tragic and awful loss for the people of both the United States and Libya.
The senators urged that the attackers swiftly be brought to justice and that the U.S. government ensures that diplomats around the world are protected. The attacks are a reminder that the Arab Spring, the “dream for democracy and freedom can still be hijacked by small groups of violent extremists who are eager to kill to advance their evil ideology.”
Stevens and three of his staff were killed an attack on the U.S. consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi after riots broke out over a film that ridiculed Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, The Associated Press reported.
In a statement late Tuesday night, Romney called Obama’s early response to the attacks on the consulate in Benghazi and embassy in Cairo weak and “disgraceful.” Romney was referring to a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, condemning “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims” — a statement the Obama administration later said hadn’t been cleared by Washington.
On Wednesday morning, Romney stood by his earlier criticism, saying the Obama administration was wrong to sympathize with protesters who had breached U.S. facilities instead of condemning their actions.
“[T]he statement that came from the [embassy] was a statement which is akin to apology. And I think it was a severe miscalculation,” Romney said at a news conference in Florida.
Romney did get backing from some conservatives on the Hill.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a member of the Foreign Relations panel, echoed Romney’s apology line: “President Obama’s failure to lead and his failed foreign policy of appeasement and apology.”
So did Rep. Jeff Landry of Louisiana.
“When someone comes into a United States Embassy, that is our sovereign soil of this country,” Landry told POLITICO. “And To allow someone to come over that wall and take our flag, desecrate our flag and the response is to apologize.”
Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) also panned Obama for his “apology” tour. “It has been his policy from the beginning to go around apologizing for America. …” he said, “and I’m glad that Romney stood and said it was wrong for the embassy to put out that statement.”
But even Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, didn’t directly criticize the president. “This is a time for healing,” he said at a campaign event in his home state of Wisconsin.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a Romney supporter who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, had been a frequent critic of Obama’s handling of last year’s uprising in Libya. But he focused his comments on the sacrifice of Stevens, whom he met during his Senate confirmation hearing in March and again during a trip to Libya.
Stevens, a career diplomat, was confirmed as ambassador on a voice vote by the Senate on March 29.
“He was an exemplary diplomat and his embassy staff could not have been more helpful and knowledgeable during my visit.,” Rubio said in a statement. “My prayers are with the families and loved ones of these courageous diplomats who were working to help the Libyan people rise from the ashes of [Qadhafi’s] rule.”
Kate Nocera contributed to this report.