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Attacks Expose Republican Rift

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Speaker John Boehner pauses during a moment of silence for John Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya killed in Benghazi, at a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda.

"Gov. Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later," Obama said, adding that Romney should have waited for all the facts to come out before making comments. Pressed on whether he would say Romney was being irresponsible with his words, Obama said it would be for others to determine. Earlier in the day, Obama vowed in the Rose Garden to see that "justice will be done" for those Americans who died in the attacks.

Romney initially criticized the embassy's response on Tuesday evening. Romney's statement came before news of the killing of Stevens and three other Americans at the U.S. consulate in Libya was reported. Both attacks were initially attributed to anger over the independent film, but U.S. officials said Wednesday afternoon that terrorists may have taken advantage of the chaos during the Libyan protest to launch a rocket-propelled grenade attack that was intended as revenge for the U.S.'s role in killing Abu Yahya al-Libi, the No. 2 leader of the terrorist group al-Qaida. The group's current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, confirmed the death of his deputy Tuesday - the 11th anniversary of 9/11.

Though there was no shortage of people coming to Romney's defense, many of the GOP lawmakers who have had the most experience with tricky foreign relations issues said they wished Romney would have tempered his criticism until more information was available.

"I wish he would have waited 12 hours or 24 hours to make the statement, but he is right in the overall situation as I see it. We have to be more aggressive in the Middle East," House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) said.

King suggested Romney should take time to lay out a more thorough position on democratic development in the Middle East.

"It could be misinterpreted when something tragic does happen and it could be perceived as being political," King said.

Other senior GOP leaders simply declined to make political statements at all. McConnell and Boehner expressed outrage and sadness at the attacks without commenting on the administration's handling of the issue.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), ranking Member on the Armed Services Committee and a longtime party standard-bearer on foreign affairs, would not go out of his way to back Romney's remarks.

"I'm not going to talk about Mitt Romney's comments today. Chris Stevens was a close and dear friend of mine, and I'm not going to get into the back-and-forth of that today," McCain said.

House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) pointed to the "a well-armed, well-coordinated" nature of the attack in Benghazi in cautioning against drawing too many conclusions too quickly, adding that discussions of policy could be had later.

McCain's home-state colleague, GOP Sen. Jon Kyl, however, offered the most fervent defense of Romney.

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