Barack Obama has stepped into the political row over Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s ill-judged response to the Benghazi consulate attack.
Romney faced heavy criticism from across the political spectrum for statements issued on Tuesday evening and repeated at a press conference on Wednesday morning in which he accused the Obama administration of being too ready to apologise for American values.
Former diplomats, foreign policy analysts and many Republicans distanced themselves from Romney’s remarks, accusing him of being premature in trying to make political capital out of a fatal attack on US diplomats. To add to his problems, the statements were quickly shown to be factually inaccurate.
On Wednesday morning, Obama had remained above the fray, focusing a statement in the White House rose garden on paying tribute to US ambassador Chris Stevens and the three other Americans who were killed, and promising justice.
But by mid-afternoon, while flying to a campaign stop in Las Vegas on Air Force One, he had engaged with the political row. In an interview with CBS, Obama said: “You know, Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later.”
He added: “As president, one of the things I’ve learned is you can’t do that. It’s important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts. And that you’ve thought through the ramifications before you make them.”
Asked if Romney’s statements were “irresponsible,” Obama replied: ‘I’ll let the American people judge that.”
“I think most Americans, Democrats or Republicans, understand that there are times when we set politics aside, and one of those is when we’ve got a direct threat to American personnel overseas,” Obama said.
“And so I think that if you look at how most Republicans, most elected officials, have reacted, they’ve reacted responsibly, waiting to find out the facts before they talk, making sure that our number one priority is the safety and security of American personnel.”
Romney’s disastrous 24 hours began late on Tuesday – the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks – in the wake of protests at the embassy in Cairo and as the Benghazi consulate attack was still unfolding.
He picked up on a statement by Cairo embassy staff expressing sympathy with Muslims angry over an anti-Islamic film apparently made in California. The embassy condemned “continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims”. Romney characterised this as an apology by the Obama administration for the right to free speech.
Waking up on Wednesday morning to critical reviews – and the news that the ambassador and three others were dead – Romney nevertheless repeated the attack, and went as far as to accuse Obama of sympathising with the Cairo protesters.
“They clearly sent mixed messages to the world, and the statement that came from the administration and the embassy is the administration,” he said during his hastily-convened press conference. “The statement that came from the administration was a statement akin to an apology.”
Romney was pressed repeatedly by reporters about whether he had jumped the gun in issuing his statement. But he insisted he had not made a mistake.
It could turn out to be one of the defining moments of the 2012 election, one that again exposed Romney’s lack of foreign policy experience. It may have done him more damage than all the millions of spent on negative campaign ads over the last two months by the Obama campaign.
Many senior Republicans greeted the renewed attack with horror, briefing reporters that Romney had made a catastrophic error of judgment that could have fatal consequences for his election campaign.
John McCain, the 2008 presidential candidate and a backer of Romney, refused to be drawn. But he did send a tweet applauding secretary of state Hillary Clinton for the tone of her statement, in which she said that the killings should not lead to a break in US-Libyan relations.
The Brookings Institution’s Martin Indyk, a former ambassador who served in the Clinton administration, told CNN issues such as these should not be used as political footballs. He added that Romney should have held back for at least a day.
The Democratic chairman of the Senate foreign affairs committee, John Kerry, said it was irresponsible, inexperienced and callous for Romney to make statements before knowing the facts.
“I don’t think he knows what he is talking about,” Kerry said.
Here are 7 wild, bizarre and pathetic moments from Trump’s ‘campaign launch’
On Tuesday night, President Donald Trump held a rally that was billed as the official launch his re-election campaign — though he has never really stopped holding campaign rallies.
As expected, the president ranted, lied, and engaged in the raucous attacks that are central to his connection with Republican voters. Some of it was actually just sad, such as his continued obsession with Hillary Clinton.
Here are seven of the wildest, disturbing and pathetic moments from the rally:
1. He said Democrats "want to destroy our country as we know it."
Trump casually accuses Democrats of "want[ing] to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it." pic.twitter.com/4K79KlbEeR
British PM candidates clash over Brexit as Boris Johnson skips debate
Candidates to become Britain's next prime minister clashed over Brexit strategy at their first debate on Sunday but the frontrunner, Boris Johnson, dodged the confrontation.
The 90-minute debate on Channel 4 featured the five remaining candidates and an empty podium for Johnson, the gaffe-prone former foreign secretary and former mayor of London.
In sometimes ill-tempered exchanges, four of the five candidates said they would seek to renegotiate the draft Brexit divorce deal agreed with Brussels even though EU leaders have repeatedly ruled this out.
Michael Cohen ordered back to Congress on March 6
President Donald Trump's so-called "fixer" is being asked to return to Congress for more questioning on March 6.
Outside of the closed-door committee hearing Thursday, Cohen said that the House Intelligence Committee is seeking further information, according to Washington Examiner writer Byron York.
Michael Cohen finished closed-door testimony before House Intel Committee, says he's coming back for another session March 6. Again: No reason for secrecy. Transcripts should be released ASAP.
— Byron York (@ByronYork) February 28, 2019