Dueling pressers: Romney takes questions, Obama doesn't on Egypt & Libya attacks

Mitt Romney came under considerable media criticism today at a press conference on the topic of the day — the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya, and the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi.  Romney stood his ground on his criticism of the initial responses from the Obama administration despite repeated questions from the press as to whether he’d jumped the gun.  We have a rough transcript from TV Eyes which shows the give and take between Romney and the media, which I have tried to clean up a bit (videos from Politico):

    REPORTER: the statement you referred to was a toughly worded statement last night. Do you regret the tone at all given what we know?

ROMNEY: the embassy in Cairo put out a statement after their grounds had been breached, protestors were inside the grounds, they reiterated that statement after the breach. I think heights a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values, that instead when our ground are being attacked and being breached that the first response of the united states must be outrage at the breach of the sovereignty of our nation. An apology for America’s values is never the right course.

REPORTER: governor Romney do you think, though, coming so soon after the events really had unfolded overnight was appropriate, to be weighing on this as this crisis is unfolding in real time?

ROMNEY: the white house also issued a statement saying it tried to distance itself from those comments and said they were not reflecting of their views. I had the exact same reaction. These views were inappropriate. They were the wrong course to take when our embassy has been breached by protestors. The first response should not be to say, yes, we stand by our comments that suggest that there is something wrong with the right of free speech.

REPORTER: what did the white house do wrong, then, Governor Romney if they put out a statement saying they disagreed witness?

ROMNEY: their administration spoke. the president takes responsibility not just for the words that come from his mouth but also for the words that come from his ambassadors from his administration, from his embassies, from the state department. They clearly sent mixed messages to the world, and the statement that came from the administration, and the embassy is the administration. The statement that came from the administration was a statement which is akin to apology and I think was a severe miscalculation.

REPORTER: you talk about mixed signals. The world was watching, isn’t this assault a mixed signal when you criticize the president when Americans are being killed shouldn’t politics stop.

ROMNEY: we were speaking about the different courses we could take with regard to the challenges the world faces. The president and I have differences of opinion with regard to Israel and our policies there, with regards to Iran, with regards to Afghanistan, with regards to Syria we have many distinctions and differences. We join together in the condemnation of attacks on the American embassies and the loss of American life and join in sympathy for these people. It’s also important for me just as it was for the white house last night by the way to say that the statements were inappropriate, and in my view a disgraceful statement on the part of our administration to apologize for American values.

REPORTER: governor some people have said that you jumped the gun a little in putting that statement out last night and you should have waited until more details were available. Do you regret having that statement come out so early before we learned about all the things that were happening?

ROMNEY: I don’t think 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 than consistent with the principles of America. Simply put, having an embassy which has been breached and has protestors on its grounds. Having violated the sovereignty of the United States. Having to embassy reiterating a statement apologizing for the right of free speech is not the right course for an administration.

REPORTER: if you had known last night that the ambassador had died, I’m gathering you did not know. That came later. If you had known that the ambassador had died.

ROMNEY: I’m not going to take hypothetical what would have been known when and so forth. We responded last night in the events that happened in Egypt.

REPORTER: now that foreign policy and the situation in the middle east has been thrust into the presidential campaign can you talk about why specifically you’re better qualified than president Obama to handle these specific issues.

ROMNEY: I think president Obama has demonstrated a lack of clarity as to a foreign policy. My foreign policy has three fundamental branches. First, confidence in our cause, a recognition that the principles America is based upon is not something we shrink from or apologize for. That we stand for those principles. The second is clarity in our purpose which is when we have a foreign policy objective we describe it openness lee and clearly to the American people, to congress, and to the people of the world. And number three, is resolve in our might. That in those rare circumstances, those rare circumstances where we decide it’s essential for us to apply military might, that we do so with force and with clarity of mission and with the US mission involved and understand when it will be complete, what will be left behind us when that mission has been terminated? These elements I believe are essential to our foreign policy and I haven’t seen them from the president. As I’ve watched over the past three and a half years the president has had some successes, he’s had some failures, it’s a hit-or-miss approach but it has not based upon sound foreign policy.

REPORTER: How specifically governor Romney would a president Romney has handled this situation differently than president Obama? You spoke out before midnight when all the facts weren’t known, how would you have handled this differently than the president did.

ROMNEY: I spoke out when the key fact was known, which was that the embassy of the United States issued what appeared to be a policy for American principles. That was a mistake. I believe when a mistake is made of that significance you speak out.

In contrast, Barack Obama delivered a statement to the press in the Rose Garden, but refused to take any questions at all.  He also avoided any comment about Romney’s criticisms last night in his prepared statement.  “Justice will be done,” Obama said after he pledged to increase security at diplomatic missions in the region, but didn’t explain exactly how that might be accomplished.  While at least one reporter asked, “Was this an act of war?”, Obama went back into the White House.

Doug Mataconis thinks that Romney’s decision to take questions was a mistake:

Had Romney not taken questions, especially after his criticisms of last night, I think the media would have ripped him for not being forthcoming.  But I think the better question is why the current President didn’t take at least a couple of questions.  An active American ambassador was murdered, an act that hasn’t happened since 1979, and some questions at least could have been answered.  Thanks to his unilateral action against Libya last year — when Obama never bothered to get Congressional approval for military action against Moammar Qaddafi’s regime — the outcome in that nation belongs entirely to Obama, for better and worse.  I doubt the media would have forgiven George Bush for not taking questions had an American ambassador been killed in Baghdad or Kabul during his tenure, with or without the withering criticism Bush had already received for his management of both wars.

Ed Morrissey Nov 29, 2021 8:25 AM ET