U.S. President Barack Obama gave a full-throated and emotional defense of his U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice Wednesday and told Sen. John McCain that if he has a problem with Rice, the Arizona senator should take it up with him directly.
McCain, in a Wednesday press conference with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) pledged to block Rice's nomination, if it materializes, due to her Sept. 16 comments referring to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi as a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islam video. Rice has said those comments were based on the intelligence community's assessment at the time, but McCain and Graham insist that she should not made the comments either way.
"I don't trust her," said Graham. Other GOP senators who are pledging to oppose the nomination include John Barrasso (R-WY) and James Inhofe (R-OK).
Obama, asked about the comments at Wednesday's press conference, said he had not made any decisions on who might replace departing senior members of his national security team. But he said Rice had nothing to do with Benghazi policy and that it was "outrageous" to oppose her nomination based on her comments on news shows in the days after the attack.
"She has done exemplary work. She has represented the United States and our interests at the United Nations with skill and professionalism and toughness and grace. She made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her," Obama said.
"If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me... but for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and who was just making a presentation based on intelligence she had received, and besmirch her reputation, is outrageous."
Obama said he is committed to getting to the bottom of the Benghazi attack and cooperating with Congress to get lawmakers information. He also said that the administration did everything it could to save the lives of Americans during and after the attack.
"Immediately upon finding out our folks were in danger, my orders to my national security team were, ‘Do whatever we need to do to make sure they're safe,'" Obama said.
"I don't think there is any debate in this country that when you have four Americans killed, that's a problem," he said. "But when they go after the U.N. ambassador, partly because they think she's an easy target, then they've got a problem with me. And if I think she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity of the State Department, then I will nominate her. That's not a decision that I've made."
UPDATE: Graham issued a statement in response to Obama's comments:
"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," he said. "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."
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.