WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Thursday tried to turn the tables on Republicans who have criticized his administration’s response to last year’s deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, calling on lawmakers to approve his request to increase funding for diplomatic security.
Obama’s call was the second step in as many days designed to combat GOP charges that his administration misled Americas about the circumstances of the attack, playing down the terrorist strike that killed four Americans amid the presidential race. Obama has angrily rejected those claims and now is seeking to turn the debate toward improving embassy security.
“I want to say to members of Congress in both parties, we need to come together and truly honor the sacrifice of those four courageous Americans and better secure our diplomatic posts around the world,” Obama said at a Rose Garden news conference with the Turkish prime minister.
The State Department is seeking about $1.4 billion for increased security. The money would come primarily from funds that haven’t been spent in Iraq. That would include $553 million for 35 more Marine Security Guard units, $130 million for 155 diplomatic security agents and $376 million for security upgrades and construction at new embassies.
Since the attack on Sept. 11, 2012, Democrats have complained that Republicans cut $300 million from the Obama administration’s budget request of $2.6 billion for diplomatic and embassy security in 2012.
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Congress provided extra security funding in legislation passed this spring. “It is better management that is required now to address these security concerns,” the spokesman, Brendan Buck, said.
Obama also said his administration is increasing intelligence and warning capabilities to secure diplomats and that he’s directed the Pentagon to ensure that the military “can respond lightning quick in times of crisis.”
“But we’re not going to be able to do this alone. We’re going to need Congress as a partner,” Obama said.
His comments came the day after the White House released 99 pages of emails and a single page of hand-written edits showing the interagency debate over the talking points under pressure from Congress. The emails show that White House staff only requested minor edits, but there were repeated requests from the State Department to take out information that could be used to criticize them.
Democrats rallied behind Obama, arguing that the email disclosure undermined Republican claims of a cover-up.
“Let’s be honest about what’s happening here,” Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said Thursday in a speech on the Senate floor. “It’s not about doing all we can to find the truth and making sure it never happens again; it’s about political-gamesmanship and finding someone to blame.”