Libya Attack, Response Leads to Political Mud Fight on the Hill

Republicans say Obama is weak on foreign policy; Democrats say Romney's unpresidential.

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In less than 24 hours, the deaths of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three of his staffers have turned from tragedy to political tug of war.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney started the blame game late Tuesday when news of the attack in Libya first broke.

In a comment released late Tuesday, Romney expressed his condolences, then jumped on President Barack Obama for failing to lead in the Middle East.

"I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi," Romney said in his statement. "It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."

Romney was referring to an apology statement issued by  the Egyptian Embassy regarding a video being promoted in the United States, which poked fun at the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The statement, according to reports, was actually made before the American Ambassador to Libya was killed and was not a response to the tragedy.

Tuesday the tensions were mounting across the Hill as each party joined the fray in an effort to depict its head honcho as more presidential on foreign policy.

California Democrat Rep. Mike Honda says Romney spoke too soon and turned a sensitive national security issue into a campaign mud fight.

"It is absolutely inappropriate for Romney to seize on this tragedy for political gain," Honda says. "Secretary Clinton said exactly what needed to be said in this sad hour in order to ease religious tension while simultaneously condemning the attack on our embassy and killing of Americans in Libya."

Republicans, however, say Romney showed leadership in his comments where the silence from the White House was deafening. [On September 11, Republicans Ding Obama on Defense Cuts.]

"I guess because this is an election year begs me to wonder whether the leaders of this capitol city shouldn't take a trip across the river into Arlington Cemetery and walk through that cemetery and determine what their bearing is," says Louisiana Republican Rep. Jeff Landry. "In that cemetery rests the soul of this nation. And I don't think anyone buried in there would appreciate the actions taken in the last 24 hours and the response of this president."

Landry did suggest a way Obama could make up for his lack of leadership: cut foreign aid money to Egypt and Libya out of the continuing resolution the House is slated to vote on Thursday.

"It would show a tremendous amount of leadership from this administration in light of the recent developments if the president were to come back and demand that the amount of money that is in that CR for Libya and Egypt be stripped out," Landry said.

Republicans say the president has punted too many times on foreign policy, "apologizing for America" when he should present a more uncompromising front.

"I am struck by the presidential campaign promise four years ago, which was if we just get along with them, the rest of the world would get along with us," says Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp. "Clearly there are nations and people and groups who hate America, and we can never let our defenses down. Under this administration there has been that tendency, which has made us weaker in the eyes of the world. "

Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry issued a statement Wednesday calling for unity among Republicans and Democrats in Congress in the wake of the tragedy.

"This is one of those moments when Americans must unite as Americans. It is exactly the wrong time to throw political punches. It is a time to restore calm and proceed wisely."