McCain to reporter: 'That's one of the dumbest questions I've ever heard.'

At a morning press conference that set the standard for today’s testy responses, Sen. John McCain was calling for a select committee to investigate failures in the Benghazi attack when he was asked by a reporter whether he thought Gen. David Petraeus’ extramarital affair and resignation might have been a bigger national security threat than the Benghazi attack and its aftermath.

His response, with great respect, of course:

“Well, I say with great respect, that’s one of the dumbest questions I’ve ever heard. Okay? There’s four dead Americans. Four dead Americans. Not a socialite. I’m answering your question. Do you want me to answer your question or do you wanna interrupt? Which do you want? There’s four dead Americans. The lives of other Americans were put in jeopardy,” McCain said. “It’s certainly a national security issues, but it doesn’t rise to the level of four dead Americans.”

McCain was flanked by Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who criticized the White House and Ambassador Susan Rice for their actions in Benghazi’s aftermath. Graham followed up on McCain’s response to the reporter, saying it would be part of the committee’s goal to separate the “weird” from the “national security risk.”

In calling for a special select committee to investigate the September 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said he is increasingly concerned about the potential fallout from the Petraeus affair and any national security implications, including ones linked to the Libya attack.

“The goal of this investigation is to have professional staff that hears everyone testify, the same set of senators who hears everyone testify so we can segregate out the weird from the national security,” Graham said. “And there is beginning to be a national security component to the human failing that I want to know about.”

I wonder why McCain, Graham, and Ayotte didn’t wait until after President Obama’s press conference to announce they’d ask for a select committee. Perhaps they thought they’d push the subject hard to ensure someone would ask about it at today’s presidential press conference, afraid a sycophantic press corps would let it lie. And, really, who can begrudge them that fear? But I might have let the president get pushed on it first before giving the press corps a chance to frame the issue as asking for a response to a Republican attack on Benghazi rather than just answering questions he should have already answered. ABC’s Jon Karl’s question started with “Republicans want to,” but Fox’s Ed Henry got straight down to the matter, riling the president.

A select committee is a special committee appointed usually to investigate a matter that crosses the jurisdictional lines of two or more standing committees. The three cautioned that traditional hearings would “stovepipe” information but a select committee would streamline the process. Congress held select committees to look into everything from pre-Iraq intelligence failures to oil company profits during the George W. Bush years, but McCain highlighted older and more famous examples like Iran Contra and Watergate select committees.

Oh, and everyone get ready for any criticism of Ambassador Susan Rice to be demagogued within an inch of its life as either sexist or racist. Mother Jones signaled the beginning of this line of attack in October by calling criticism of her a “high-tech lynching,” and the president displayed perhaps more emotion than he’s ever showed in defending her today. You can bet that video is being sent to a micro-targeted list of women voters. Sen. Ayotte was a tad softer in her tone about Rice, while still calling her to account. Others in the party should model their responses on hers:

“You don’t end up on every single major Sunday show without affirmatively putting yourself out there of wanting to carry forward a message on behalf of the administration. I think that there’s a certain responsibility with the current position that she has to ask proper questions about what we did and didn’t know at that point before she affirmatively puts herself out there on every major network to communicate to the American people.”

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