Obama Defends U.N. Envoy Amid Republican Attack

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President Obama sounds like he's in for a fight over the woman who could be the next secretary of state. Republicans have been blasting U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for the way she characterized the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11.

But the president came to her defense in his news conference Wednesday afternoon.

"When they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she's an easy target, then they've got a problem with me," he told reporters.

Obama says he hasn't decided on who he will appoint, but Rice is clearly a front-runner. Republicans are vowing to block her and they are calling for a Watergate-style congressional committee to look into Benghazi.

Sen. John McCain is leading the charge to set up a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others.

The Arizona Republican says there are just too many questions: why the U.S. Consulate was so poorly protected and why the Rice gave what McCain called false information on five Sunday talk shows.

"And if Ambassador Rice was relying on intelligence assessments as she insists, why were those assessments so dramatically at odds with the earliest reports of our people on the ground?" he said.

McCain says he will do "whatever is necessary" to block Rice if she's nominated to become the next secretary of state. Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina echoed that sentiment.

"I don't think she deserves to be promoted. There are a lot of qualified people in this country the president could pick," he said. "But I'm dead set on making sure we don't promote anybody who was an essential player in the Benghazi debacle."

Harsh Language

The language has been harsh: McCain says Rice is not qualified, and Graham says he doesn't trust her.

"And the reason I don't trust her is because I think she knew better, and if she didn't know better, she shouldn't be the voice of America," Graham said.

But Rice is a trusted adviser to President Obama. She is a member of his Cabinet, and as U.N. ambassador, she advocated for tougher sanctions on Iran and played a key role in facilitating international action on Libya. Obama says she has served with "toughness and grace."

"If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody they should go after me. And I'm happy to have that discussion with them," Obama said. "But for them to go after the U.N. 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."

State Department and CIA officials have been briefing members of Congress in a series of closed-door meetings this week. The president says he will put forward "every bit of information he has" on Benghazi.

It's unclear if that would be enough to help Rice get confirmed by the Senate. Obama says he hasn't made his selection for secretary of state yet. Rice also avoided questions about her future when she spoke earlier this week to reporters in New York.

"I love my job here at the United Nations. I always have. I always will," she said. "And I look forward to continuing to serve for as long as President Obama would like me to."

She has made no secret, though, that she wants to be back in Washington with her family and in a prominent role in a second-term Obama administration.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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