HEMPSTEAD, NY -- Sen. John Kerry took the somewhat unusual step of spinning reporters before a presidential debate Tuesday, arguing that President Barack Obama accepts responsibility for a terrorist attack in Libya while hitting Republicans for politicizing that incident.
Kerry, a top debate adviser to Obama, told reporters in the hours leading up to tonight's second presidential debate that Republicans had turned last month's attack on a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi -- which left four Americans, including the ambassador to Libya, dead -- into a "political football."
"My view is that the people of the United States understand that when there is a tragedy that involves the loss of life at an embassy and people go through what we've gone through you bond together as a country and you don't make it a political football," Senator John Kerry told reporters here when asked if the issue of Libya was a vulnerability for Obama. "I don't remember a political football when 3000 people died about 40 miles away from here and you had 9/11."
"There was no political football," Kerry continued. "We came together as a country. And I think its disgraceful to be trying to make this a political issue."
Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, 2004 Democratic presidential nominee and current Romney stand-in in Obama's debate preparations, said that despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's assertion in a series of interviews Monday night that she bore ultimate responsibility for the attacks in Benghazi, that the president too, took responsibility.
"The president takes responsibility and Hillary Clinton have taken responsibility. That should be enough for people, and its a disgrace to come out and make that a political issue. A disgrace," Kerry said, adding later "[Secretary Clinton's] accepting responsibility as the secretary of state and I'm confident the president accepts responsibility. I know he does, as President of the United States."
Asked later whether the proverbial buck stops with the president, the senior Massachusetts senator responded tightly: "Of course it does. Absolutely."
Kerry's comments on the attacks last month in Libya, which have emerged as a GOP talking point designed to undermine the president on national security issues, could have the effect of a pre-buttal to the evening's debate should Romney bring up the issue in tonight's debate, as he has on the stump in recent weeks.
"The vice president directly contradicted the sworn testimony of State Department officials," Mr. Romney said at a rally in Richmond, Va last Friday, referring to Vice President Biden's assertion that he and the president had not been personally aware of requests for more security at the consulate on 9/11. "He's doubling down on denial."
Romney advisers have been coy on whether or not Mr. Romney would target the Libya issue in tonight's debate, with one senior member of Mr. Romney's team saying it was "hard to predict" whether the issue would come up. Romney himself has only brought up the issue sporadically, not yet fully integrating it into his typical attacks against Obama, which still focus primarily on economic issues.