President Barack Obama had some fighting words today for the senator he faced in 2008:
If Sen. John McCain and allied Republican Lindsey Graham want to complain about the administration’s handling of the attack against the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, Obama said, the senator who served as the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in ’08 shouldn’t be picking on U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice — they should “go after” him.
The president’s ire for his erstwhile rival from Arizona and political ally from South Carolina involves his reported interest in nominating Rice for secretary of state, which he wouldn’t confirm in a White House news conference today. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans to step aside soon, opening the nation’s chief diplomatic post for appointment. McCain, criticizing Rice for her public representations of what initially happened in Benghazi, is speaking out against her nomination as secretary of state.
“If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody? They should go after me,” Obama said today. “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?” he said, “And was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received? And to besmirch her reputation is outrageous. And, you know, we’re after an election now.”
“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,” the president said.
McCain, who had raised his complaints about Rice during the 2012 election campaign, is drawing a certain line now.
“I will do everything in my power to block her from being the United States Secretary of State,” McCain, an outspoken critic of the administration’s explanations of Benghazi, said in an appearance on Fox News. “She has proven that she either doesn’t understand or she is not willing to accept evidence on its face. There is no doubt five days later what this attack was.”
Without confirming his thinking on the State appointment, Obama said at his news conference: “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. As I’ve said before (on the question of Benghazi), 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.”
He said: “And should I choose, if I think that she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity at the State Department, then I will nominate her. That’s not a determination that I’ve made yet.”