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Portman: Romney had 'the reaction that most Americans would have' to attacks

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Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, on Thursday defended GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s response late Tuesday to the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo when Mr. Romney said a statement from the embassy amounted to an opinion of the Obama administration and called the contents of it “akin to an apology” for Americans’ freedom of speech.

“What I’m saying is, frankly, what the White House is saying now — that that statement was inappropriate,” Mr. Portman said on “CBS This Morning.” “And I think for Governor Romney to have seen that statement and react as he did is the reaction that most Americans would have, which is that at a time when we have this kind of violence against American territory, the thing to do is to condemn it and not to begin by issuing an apology.”

The Obama administration, however, is disputing the accuracy of Mr. Romney’s statements about the timing of the release. Mr. Romney’s statement implied that the embassy had sent out its statement in reaction to the rioting, but the administration says it was sent during an initial phase in an attempt to calm the rioting mobs outside the embassy who were reacting to a film about Muslims that was produced in the U.S.

Mr. Obama and many Republicans also questioned Mr. Romney’s injection of politics into the situation in the aftermath of an attack that killed four Americans, including Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya.

But Mr. Portman pointed out that even the White House said later that the initial statement from the embassy was not the appropriate response. Mr. Obama said the first statement from the U.S. Embassy did not come from him or Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“I don’t think it’s all that complicated,” Mr. Portman said. “I think [Romney] saw something that appeared to be inappropriate because it was talking about an apology before condemning the attacks and made a statement about it. Look, we’re Americans first. All of us are concerned about what’s happening not just in Egypt, but now in Libya, now in Yemen. Certainly we send our condolences to the families of these brave Americans who lost their lives in Libya.

“We need to pull together as a country, but on the other hand, when there’s a statement issued by the U.S. government that appears to be apologizing and implicitly saying, you know, there must be some reason for this, that concerns us, because what we want to be sure that these other governments are saying to their people and that the message is clear is that in no case are these kinds of attacks appropriate or justified, so I think that’s simply what he was trying to communicate,” he continued.

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