In a rare flash of anger, President Barack Obama on Wednesday strongly defended his U.N. ambassador, saying it was "outrageous" for senior Republican senators to target Susan Rice over her response to the attack on the U.S. mission in Libya that left four Americans dead.
Setting the stage for a possible Senate confirmation fight, Sen. John McCain had vowed just hours earlier to block Rice's nomination if Obama taps her to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. And Sen. Lindsey Graham said he didn't trust Rice.
At issue are Rice's Sunday talk show statements five days after the Sept. 11 attack, when she attributed the incident to the outrage in the Arab world over an anti-Muslim video, not an act of terrorism.
Rice has done "exemplary work" as U.N. ambassador, a feisty Obama said in his first news conference since his re-election last week, adding that if the senators have an issue with the administration's handling of the attack, they should take it up with him directly:
"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, 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. If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I'm happy to have that discussion with them. 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."
Obama pledged to provide all information available to those investigating the incident.
"But 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."
That tone may sound strong for President Obama, but actually he was far too kind. After all, Obama could have (but didn't) mentioned that McCain, who as the 2008 GOP presidential nominee was 72-years-old and had been treated for skin cancer, picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate; to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.
Palin clearly proved to be unqualified for the job, both in intellect and temperament, and wasn't even invited to speak to the GOP convention four years later.
Obama also didn't mention that in 2005, McCain defended George W. Bush's nomination of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State even though Rice helped spread false intelligence that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction.
Today's news conference was also reminiscent of a post-2008 Obama smackdown of McCain, when the president told his former rival "the campaign's over" during a bipartisan health care summit in February 2010. Watch the video: