A group of 97 House Republicans sent a letter to President Obama on Monday saying that U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice misled the nation about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, making her unfit to be a candidate to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The letter, organized by South Carolina freshman Rep. Jeff Duncan, said Mrs. Rice's "misleading statements" about the attack that led to the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans "caused irreparable damage to her credibility both at home and around the world."
It was the latest GOP effort to single out the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, long a top foreign policy adviser to the president, for the mixed signals sent out by the administration in the immediate aftermath of the September attack in Benghazi.
Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have led criticism in the Senate, saying Mrs. Rice is unqualified and untrustworthy and promising to block her nomination if Mr. Obama picks her to take over the State Department after Mrs. Clinton steps down, as she is widely expected to do soon.
Mr. Obama responded last week at a news conference, saying Mrs. Rice had been accurately repeating intelligence "talking points" given to her and that Sens. McCain and Graham should "go after me" if they want to criticize administration actions. He said Mrs. Rice had nothing to do with the Benghazi affair and "to besmirch her reputation is outrageous."
On Friday, a dozen Democratic female members of the House also came to the U.N. ambassador's defense, saying the criticisms of her smacked of sexism and racism.
Mrs. Rice became a target when she went on a string of Sunday talk shows five days after the attack on the Benghazi diplomatic mission on Sept. 11 and said that, from the best information she had at the time, the attack appeared to be a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Muslim video and not a premeditated attack. That assessment later proved to be incorrect.
Mrs. Rice, the House Republicans said in their letter, "is widely viewed as having either willfully or incompetently misled the American public in the Benghazi matter." As a result, they said, "we believe that making her the face of U.S. foreign policy in your second term would greatly undermine your desire to improve U.S. relations with the world and continue to build trust with the American people."
Mrs. Clinton has not formally announced when she is leaving her post and Mr. Obama has not said who might succeed her, although Mrs. Rice has often been mentioned as a leading candidate. Senior-level positions must be confirmed by the Senate.
Administration officials have defended their portrayal of the attack, including Mrs. Rice's talk-show accounts, as relying on the best information available at the time that didn't compromise classified intelligence. Democrats say CIA and other intelligence officials signed off on the final talking points.
Republicans have alleged a Watergate-like cover-up, accusing White House aides of hiding the terrorism link in the runup to the Nov. 6 presidential election so voters wouldn't question Mr. Obama's claim that the power of the al Qaeda terror network had diminished.
"I know the narrative was wrong and the intelligence was right. ... We're going to get to the bottom of how that happened," House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican, said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."