During a White House press conference on Wednesday, President Obama took a few minutes to push back on a burgeoning media narrative.
ABC correspondent Jonathan Karl asked the president about the likely nomination of UN ambassador Susan Rice to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, as well as the determination of certain Republicans to block her nomination.
Here’s video and a transcript of the president’s response:
Let me say specifically about Susan Rice, she 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…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 UN 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…I don’t think there’s any debate in this country that when you have four Americans killed, that’s a problem. And we’ve got to get to the bottom of it, and there needs to be accountability…But when they go after the UN ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me. And if I think that she would be the best person to serve America [at the] State Department, then I will nominate her.
In a response that can be accurately and succintly paraphrased as, “come at me bro,” the president did his best to make Lindsey Graham and John McCain look bad for relentlessly picking on a nonthreatening woman who didn’t actually do anything wrong. (Click here to read why Republican suspicions that Rice was at the fore of a Benghazi cover-up are complete bunk.)
Sen. Graham, undeterred, shot back in an official statement, saying “Mr. President, don’t think for one minute I don’t hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi. I think you failed as Commander in Chief before, during, and after the attack…[And] given what I know now, I have no intention of promoting anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle.” McCain was similarly harsh, stating that Obama has “either been guilty of colossal incompetence or engaged in a cover-up.”
It’s worth noting that the last time Obama publicly rebuffed an accusation this aggressively was during his second presidential debate with Mitt Romney—when the conversation also turned to the Benghazi embassy attack and Susan Rice. The tone and rhythm he struck during Wednesday’s press conference was basically a Xerox copy of this: