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President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney sparred in the second of three debates Tuesday over the security provided to the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and how each handled the aftermath of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens’ death.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement Tuesday morning taking responsibility for not providing more security to the consulate ahead of the Sept. 11 attack after members of Congress have grilled the Obama administration for its protection of the Libyan consulate.
When CNN’s Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley, who served as the moderator, asked about the attack and the Clinton’s acceptance of blame, the president said the buck stops with him.
“Secretary Clinton has done an extraordinary job. But she works for me. I'm the president and I'm always responsible, and that's why nobody's more interested in finding out exactly what happened than I do,” Obama said.
The discussion on the consulate attack was the one time the topic of national security entered the debate as the candidates did not receive any questions on the military or veterans issues.
Romney attacked Obama’s delay in labeling the attack a terrorist attack and then questioned why the president flew to campaign trips in Las Vegas and Colorado while the nation tried to figure out who killed a U.S. ambassador.
“It was a terrorist attack and it took a long time for that to be told to the American people. Whether there was some misleading, or instead whether we just didn't know what happened, you have to ask yourself why didn't we know five days later when the ambassador to the United Nations went on TV to say that this was a demonstration,” Romney said. “How could we have not known?”
Romney used this line of questioning to further criticize the president’s Middle East policy, highlighting the unrest seen in Egypt, Syria and Libya. He also suggested that Iran is four years closer to producing a nuclear bomb.
“The president's policies throughout the Middle East began with an apology tour and pursue a strategy of leading from behind, and this strategy is unraveling before our very eyes,” Romney said.
Obama disputed the fact he didn’t call the attack an act of terror, pointing out that he called it that in his speech in the White House Rose Garden on Sept. 12.
“The day after the attack, Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people in the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened,” Obama said. “That this was an act of terror and I also said that we're going to hunt down those who committed this crime.”
Crowley corrected Romney in the midst of a tense exchange between the two candidates to specify the president had called it an act of terror in his speech in the White House Rose Garden the day after the Benghazi attack.
“He did call it an act of terror,” Crowley told Romney, while also telling the former governor he was right to say the administration had initially blamed the riot that occurred outside the consulate for the attack.
Political commentators on both sides of the aisle said Romney missed an opportunity to highlight Obama’s faults in the way his administration failed to address the attack that caused the first murder of a U.S. ambassador since 1979.
Obama laid out his three-step plan to ensure U.S. diplomats are properly protected and the individuals responsible for the attack are held responsible, saying the investigation is ongoing.
“We are going to find out who did this and we're going to hunt them down, because one of the things that I've said throughout my presidency is when folks mess with Americans, we go after them,” Obama said.