Republicans argued on Sunday that the administration’s handling of the terrorist attack in Libya that killed four Americans raises questions about President Obama’s leadership and is an increasingly important campaign issue.
“This tragedy turned into a debacle and massive cover up or massive incompetence in Libya is having an effect on the voters because of how they view of the commander-in-chief,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on CBS’s Face the Nation, adding, “It is now the worst cover up or incompetence that I have ever observed in my life.”
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said on Fox News Sunday that “This issue of Benghazi is really bubbling up,” adding that, “People are demanding answers from this administration. I think that is going to have a big impact here in the state of Wisconsin.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff, defended Obama on CBS’s Face the Nation, arguing that the president immediately ordered an investigation, is determined to find out who is responsible, and is committed to holding them accountable.
“As commander in chief he took control and said exactly what needs to be done,” Emanuel said. “The commander in chief says ‘I want to get to the bottom of it, I want an investigation, get the report, find out who is responsible for this act,’ and we will bring them to justice.”
The terrorist attack is the subject of multiple investigations in the administration and by Congress. However, no definitive findings are expected before Election Day, which is nine days away.
After clashing with Obama over the matter in the second presidential debate, Mitt Romney declined to push the issue in the third debate last week and he has largely stayed off the topic on the campaign trail.
Not so for his surrogates, however. Johnson was joined by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, in arguing that the president’s handling of the incident is worthy of scrutiny.
“This is not about politics, this is about a huge national security issue that effects all of us, and there was a shocking breakdown operationally not to have the security there in the first place and then not to respond to these guys and their pleas for help for seven hours during a fire fight, it’s unbelievable,” Portman said on Fox News Sunday.
Portman said that the president’s explanation of events raises further questions about the administration’s response, and he questioned whether the president issued a directive for intervention.
“Now we are hearing that the president of the United States, based on his own words, issued a directive, immediately after he found out about the fire fight, saying that he wanted to make sure those people on the ground were safe and that they were getting what they needed and it didn't happen,” Portman said. “That means that either that the president’s order was not followed, which would be a breakdown in terms of the White House procedure, or that the order was not issued. We need to find out about this. It’s not about politics. It’s a very serious situation… it shows a lack of leadership and a policy in disarray.”
Added Johnson: “This administration purposefully misled the American people for weeks. This president misled the American people for weeks. The American people have the right to know, it was either misleading or it was incompetence. I think we are finding out it was probably both.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, speaking on ABC’s This Week, also argued that the attack is increasingly becoming a liability for the Obama campaign.
“If the president is telling the truth and he actually instructed his assistants to get aid to Benghazi, we're now being told that the Secretary of Defense canceled that,” Gingrich said.
He added: “You have to wonder, between Benghazi, the price of gasoline, and unemployment, just how much burden the president's going to carry into this last week.”