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Candidates Spar Over Foreign Policy Following Attacks in Libya, Egypt

Mitt Romney holds a press conference in the wake of the attacks in Benghazi and Cairo at his campaign office on Wednesday in Jacksonville. Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Morning Line

Four years ago this week the collapse of Lehman Brothers sent shockwaves through the financial markets and the presidential race between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain.

It remains to be seen how long the attacks in Benghazi and Cairo this week will reverberate on the campaign trail, but there is no question that the events overseas have temporarily moved foreign policy to the forefront of a contest that will still ultimately be decided by feelings about the state of the economy.

Still, in what is shaping up to be a close election with little room for error, both candidates are intent on winning each news cycle, regardless of the issue being debated.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came under fire Wednesday for releasing a statement late Tuesday criticizing the administration’s response to the attacks on the diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya before it was known that four American lives had been lost, including that of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens.

At a hastily arranged news conference in Jacksonville, Fla., Wednesday, the GOP presidential nominee rejected the notion that his campaign jumped the gun with its statement.

“I don’t think we — we ever hesitate when we see something which is a violation of our principles. We express immediately when we feel that the president and his administration have done something which is inconsistent with the principles of America,” Romney said.

Romney also sought to blame the administration for the statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo before the attacks that appeared aimed at calming tensions in Egypt over an anti-Muslim film made in California.

“The statement that came from the administration was — was a statement which is akin to apology and I think was a — a severe miscalculation,” Romney charged.

The president fired back in an interview with “60 Minutes” taped Wednesday, blasting his opponent for politicizing the incidents.

“Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later,” Mr. Obama said. “And as president, one of the things I’ve learned is you can’t do that. That, you know, 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 ’em,” he added.

Asked if he thought Romney’s comments were irresponsible, the president responded: “I’ll let the American people judge that.”

The latest CNN/ORC survey released Monday found voters gave Mr. Obama a 54 percent to 42 percent advantage over Romney on which candidate would better handle foreign affairs, which explains why the GOP hopeful decided to go on the offensive against the president. But in the high stakes game of presidential politics, when you fire, you better be sure you hit your mark.

The NewsHour explored the issue in depth Wednesday night.

Gwen Ifill focused on Stevens’ life and the role diplomats play abroad, as well as what is known about Salafi Muslims in the middle east. Watch that here.

And Judy Woodruff talked with former Sen. Norm Coleman and former Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns about how foreign policy spilled onto the campaign trail.

Burns said, “I don’t think it was right for Gov. Romney to have just jumped in and suddenly judged our embassy when he didn’t know all the facts.”

Asked if the Romney campaign was aware of the timing of the nominee’s statement, Coleman said, “of course.”

He added:

What is fascinating is that the Obama administration comes back and only separates itself from this statement. And there was no separation from the embassy from the time they issued that statement — and the demonstration was going on — until after Gov. Romney says, you know something, this is outrageous.

They did sympathize. Their focus wasn’t on the fact that — at any time before Gov. Romney issued his statement, their focus was not on the fact that the embassy walls are scaled, that the American flag is torn down, that a black flag is put up saying “God is Allah,” until Gov. Romney says this is outrageous.

Coleman also said there was “no clarification until Gov. Romney stepped forward and said this simply isn’t right.”

Burns retorted:

I have served in embassy Cairo and other embassies. There are times, because of the time difference, embassies don’t call back to Washington and ask them to bless or agree with a statement. You have to, in an emergency, make the call you make.

I’m just trying to say I think that Gov. Romney should focus on President Obama, and not on the actions of an embassy under siege, under great tension.

As I looked at President Obama’s statement today and Secretary Clinton’s, they clearly came out.

The first thing they did was condemn terrorism and protect our people and call for the governments of Libya and Egypt to be accountable and to arrest these people and bring them to justice. I think that’s the proper way for the United States government to work, and the governor should have focused on that.

Coleman’s talking points included a mention of the president’s golf habit and frequent fundraisers.

Watch the segment here or below:


The president’s team has a new attack spot featuring AARP’s critical comments about the Ryan budget and Medicare.

The 30-second spot, not directly released to the press, asks voters to visit an Obama campaign site mentioned in a similar Medicare ad on Aug. 17.

“AARP opposes that plan and nonpartisan analysts say it could raise seniors’ costs up to $6,400 a year,” a narrator says.

Watch it here or below.

It first aired Wednesday at 4:58 a.m. on the CBS affiliate in Des Moines, according to data tracking by NewsHour partner CMAG.

CMAG also caught that Romney spots have indeed begun airing in Wisconsin, right on schedule.


  • With Ryan back on Capitol Hill, he’s being treated like a rock star by his colleagues. But there will be no rallying speech to the GOP caucus, and he’s “not even expected to make a stop at his Congressional office in the Longworth House Office Building across the street from the Capitol,” Fox’s Chad Pergram writes. And Roll Call’s Daniel Newhauser finds that Republicans are eyeing his top spot on the Budget Committee.
  • Politico sifted through thousands of White House images and found one-third of the president’s events photographed were not listed on his public schedule.
  • A Fox News poll released Wednesday found the president leading Romney 48 to 43 percent nationally among likely voters.
  • The New York Times’ Nicholas Confessore sorts and ranks the president’s high-dollar donors after obtaining an internal Obama for America document. He writes, “The campaign closely monitors its top bundlers, rating them by how much each individual or couple has raised and donated each year going back to 2007.”
  • The Washington Post’s Amy Gardner tells the story of two critical Colorado counties, suggesting that whoever wins them will occupy the Oval Office next year.
  • Talking Points Memo’s Ryan J. Reilly finds an Office of Special Counsel report to the president stating that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius violated the Hatch Act when she “made extemporaneous partisan remarks in a speech delivered in her official capacity” during a speech before the Human Rights Campaign earlier this year.
  • The Root looks at Florida’s voter-purge lawsuit and the Washington Post takes a broad view by looking at all the voter ID challenges ahead of the Nov. 6 elections.
  • Facebook knows how to get out the vote, a new study shows.



  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has hired Jesse Benton, a former top aide to Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Ron Paul, to run his 2014 re-election campaign.
  • Roll Call’s Meredith Shiner notices something about a competitive Senate contest. Her lede: “Plenty of ‘L’ words will be used to describe Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin’s closely watched Senate race – ‘liberal,’ ‘left,’ ‘labor’ – but ‘lesbian’ is not likely to be one of them.”
  • In one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country, Sen. Jon Tester led Rep. Denny Rehberg 45 percent to 43 percent in a new poll from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling. The automated survey found the Libertarian candidate getting 8 percent of the vote.
  • New Mexico is looking solid for the Democrats in a new PPP poll.
  • The Boston Globe fact checks Sen. Scott Brown’s Obama-friendly ad and finds some discrepancies with the truth.
  • The NewsHour took a look at new poverty figures.
  • Roll Call’s Shira Toeplitz writes that the Iowa caucuses and attention paid to the state at the national level had a residual effect: each House race there got more competitive.
  • Texas Rep. Michael McCaul retained his spot on the 50 Richest Members of Congress list for a second year.
  • Ever wondered what Pi would look like in the sky? San Francisco Bay Area residents found out Wednesday.


All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • Mitt Romney holds a rally in Fairfax, Va., at 11:35 a.m.
  • Vice President Biden speaks in Eau Claire, Wis., at 12 p.m. He gives a speech at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s 35th Anniversary Awards Gala in Washington, DC, at 8:15 p.m.
  • President Obama speaks at Lions Park in Golden, Colo., at 1:10 p.m.
  • Paul Ryan will be on Capitol Hill to vote on the continuing resolution to fund the government, but has no campaign events.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz, @indiefilmfan, @tiffanymullon, @dePeystah, @meenaganesan and @abbruns.

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