House Speaker John A. Boehner on Thursday demanded that President Obama explain why his administration has struggled to handle the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in a move that could raise the political peril to the White House.
In a letter to Mr. Obama, the Republican speaker demanded that the president answer five questions including why his administration turned down requests for more security at the diplomatic post, and why the White House didn’t do a better job of acknowledging it as a terrorist attack until well after the fact.
“Our country will not be able to move on from the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2012, until the public better understands the answers,” Mr. Boehner wrote.
The Ohio Republican is stepping into a fight that his party’s presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, has shied away from in recent weeks. At this week’s foreign policy debate, Mr. Romney didn’t raise any questions about the White House’s handling of Benghazi, and instead repeatedly praised Mr. Obama’s decision-making.
But House Republicans have pushed the issue, including using their control of the House oversight committee to release internal administration emails that indicate some in the administration should have been able to spot the terrorist roots of the attack early on.
While Mr. Obama made a single reference to terrorism in his initial comments after the attack, his administration pinned blame for the assault on a backlash to a video mocking Islam. The White House has said it was reflecting what the intelligence community had indicated to it and wasn’t trying to mislead the public.
But Mr. Boehner said there are inconsistencies in what the administration said in September and information that the recently-released emails show was available to the White House.
“No one in your administration can substitute for your authority and voice to explain to the American people the strategy and policies you directed during and in the aftermath of the terrorist attack,” the speaker wrote.
Democrats, too, have questioned Mr. Obama’s handling of the Libyan attack, but have tried to avoid letting it damage his political prospects ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
The Senate intelligence committee, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, has announced it will hold hearings to try to get to the bottom of the situation — though they won’t begin until mid-November, or well after the election.
That drew criticism from Senate Republicans.
“The truth is this hearing should have been held weeks ago,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican. “By the time it takes place, two full months will have passed since the September 11th terrorist attack on our consulate in Libya. That’s way too long for the Senate to ask the important questions that have been building up.”