The death of Ambassador John Christopher Stevens and attacks on U.S. facilities in Libya and Egypt is prompting responses from Republican congressional leaders — including Mitt Romney running mate Paul Ryan — that are far different than the critical comments made by the Republican presidential nominee in the hours after the attack.
In a statement issued late Tuesday, Romney expressed outrage and said “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 reiterated his concerns Wednesday morning, telling reporters that differences in statements from Cairo and Washington about the attacks “reflects the mixed signals” that the Obama administration is “sending the world.”
But no Republican leader criticized President Obama on Wednesday morning. They called instead for stronger security at U.S. diplomatic facilities, the swift capture and punishment of the perpetrators and a renewed commitment to pro-democracy efforts in the Arab world.
Now is “a time for healing,” Ryan (R-Wis.) told a crowd in De Pere, Wis., during a campaign stop. He made no criticism of Obama in his remarks.
Ryan, who was introduced by longtime friend Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, told a crowd of several hundred at Cornerstone Community Ice Center outside of Green Bay that “we woke up to some pretty disturbing news this morning.”
“I know all Americans today are shocked and saddened by the news in the Middle East,” said Ryan. “The attacks on our diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya, and the loss of four American lives — including our ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens — this is outrageous. Our hearts are heavy. And our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”
He led the crowd in a brief moment of silence, then said: “This is a time for healing. It’s a time for resolve. In the face of such a tragedy, we are reminded that the world needs American leadership, and the best guarantee of peace is American strength.”
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement: “We mourn for the families of our countrymen in Benghazi, and condemn this horrific attack. Eleven years after September 11, this is a jolting reminder that freedom remains under siege by forces around the globe who relish violence over free expression, and terror over democracy — and that America and free people everywhere must remain vigilant in defense of our liberties.”
Following his statement, Boehner ordered flags over the U.S. Capitol to be flown at half-staff in honor of Stevens and the other American personnel killed in Libya.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) added in a separate statement that, “These attacks will not deter America from continuing to promote peace, democracy, individual and religious freedom and an unwavering respect for human life throughout the region and the world.”
In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) usually reserves his morning Senate floor remarks to sharply criticize Obama administration policy. But Wednesday he struck a more somber tone and expressed support for “employing every available tool at our disposal to ensure the safety of Americans overseas and to hunt down those responsible for these attacks.
“Among the things we can all agree on in Washington is that attacks on the U.S. and its representatives will be met with resolve, and that America’s presence and defense of our national interests across the globe will not be deterred by the acts of violent extremists,” McConnell said.
Even Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — a troika that regularly critiques the Obama administration’s foreign policy — urged Obama to continue supporting democracy efforts in Libya and Egypt.
“We cannot give in to the temptation to believe that our support for the democratic aspirations of people in Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere in the broader Middle East is naive or mistaken,” the senators said in a joint statement. “We cannot resign ourselves to the false belief that the Arab Spring is doomed to be defined not by the desire for democracy and freedom that has inspired millions of people to peaceful action, but by the dark fanaticism of terrorists.”
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) appeared to call out Romney for attacking Obama in the early hours after the attack. In a statement condemning the attacks, Lautenberg added, “At at a time when we should be standing together against these senseless acts of violence, Mitt Romney offered an atrocious political response that undermines our unity in the face of threats to Americans around the world.”
Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) expressed similar sentiments, saying in a statement: “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.”
Later, in a conversation with reporters, Kerry called on Romney to apologize for his comments, and call them irresponsible, callous and reckless, according to reporters present for the exchange.
This post has been updated since it was first published.
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