WASHINGTON — Despite a vigorous debate between the Obama administration and Republican leaders over the Sept. 11 attack in Libya, Colorado’s congressional delegation has sat largely on the sidelines, deferring the issue to leadership.
Eight of the nine members of the delegation declined two separate requests to discuss the administration’s handling of the assault on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, which resulted in the deaths of four American service members, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
No members have issued press releases or made tweets after the initial burst of news about the Libya attack.
With one exception, delegation members responded to the assault with sympathy for the victims but did not address the reasons for the assault.
Four of the delegation’s five Democratic members issued statements that mentioned neither an American-made anti-Islam video nor terrorists in connection with the attack.
For example, Senator Michael Bennet’s statement condemned “senseless and unjustified attacks,” while Rep. Ed Perlmutter criticized “barbaric acts of violence.”
Three of the delegations’ four Republican members issued statements about the assault, but only Rep. Mike Coffman of Lone Tree was specific in its criticisms.
Coffman blamed both the State Department for “posting an ambassador and his staff in an unstable country without requiring a U.S. Marine Corps security detachment to protect them” as well as the makers of the low-budget video for “intentionally attack(ing) the Islamic faith for the sole purpose of inflaming tensions while knowingly putting at risk State Department personnel as well as our troops serving us on the ground in Afghanistan.”
Coffman, a member of the House committee on Armed Services, declined to comment through a spokesperson and has not spoken to media outlets about the assault since his Sept. 12 statement.
Sen. Mark Udall, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also has not gone public with his view of the assault since his office released a statement on Sept. 12 in which he said he “absolutely condemn(ed) the murder” of the American personnel.
While the Colorado congressional delegation has been silent mostly on the reasons for the Benghazi assault, the Obama administration and congressional Republican leaders have sparred over the administration’s handling of it.
Republicans contend the White House played down the possibility of a terrorist attack deliberately. Democrats accuse Republicans of playing politics with the issue.
The White House has distanced itself from earlier statements that linked the Libya attack with anti-Islamic video. On Sept. 12, President Obama implied in a Rose Garden ceremony at the White House that the producers of the video played a role in the killing of the four American personnel in Benghazi.
“We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others,” Obama said. His statement echoed a press release that the U.S. Embassy in Egypt issued Sept. 11 that sought to explain a separate attack at the U.S. consulate in Cairo. (The statement has since been removed from the embassy’s website).
President Obama’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sept. 16 and explained the assault this way: “(O)ur current assessment is what happened in Benghazi was, in fact, initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hourse before in Cairo, almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, prompted by the video.”
Obama has backtracked from Rice’s comments without criticizing her by name. On Oct. 18, Obama said on the “Daily Show” with host Jon Stewart that the administration did not make the “optimal response” to the Benghazi attack.
In addition, a State Department official, Charlene Lamb, told Congress that she declined requests from U.S. officials in Benghazi for more security for the outpost.
House Republican leaders have also come under fire.
Democrats criticized Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the committee on Oversight and Government Reform, for releasing the names of several Libyans who worked with the U.S. at the outpost in Benghazi, a city known for having al Qaeda sympathizers. Issa’s spokesman, Frederick Hill, said the release of the names of the Libyans would not be surprising to those in the North African country.
At least one member of the Colorado congressional delegation has joined the national debate, though. Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) criticized the Obama administration’s response to the Benghazi assault and its security policy.
“Since the attack on our consulate, it has become clear that terrorists not the video were responsible for the violence. It is disappointing to also have learned that the Obama administration ignored requests for home security forces,” Gardner said.
The lack of response from rank-and-file members of the delegation seems to mirror American voters’ lack of interest in foreign affairs.
According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released this week, only 2 percent of Americans ranked “war/foreign conflicts” or “terrorism/terrorist” as a top concern.
The House Oversight Committee is not scheduled to be in session this week, and a call about its schedule of hearings about Libya was not returned by press time. The House and Senate are scheduled to return in mid-November.
The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing on the Libya attack on Nov. 15, according to a committee press release.