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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.

Top Republicans, including presidential nominee Mitt Romney, turned the attacks on a U.S. consulate in Libya and the embassy in Egypt into a political war of words Wednesday - a decision that revealed a split between those in the party who wanted to take election-year shots and those more accustomed to projecting a sense of national unity in the wake of such a tragedy.

With Romney refusing to back down from a blistering critique of the Obama administration's foreign policy, many Republicans on Capitol Hill also turned their fire on the administration. Some, such as House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (Calif.), changed their statements later in the day in an apparent attempt to show more solidarity with Romney, but the party's most senior elected leaders - including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) - decided to take a pass on making the death of a U.S. ambassador and three others in Libya a political issue.

Most Republicans joined President Barack Obama in condemning the attacks, but some also took the opportunity to reiterate Romney's criticism of the Obama administration for what the GOP nominee has called a pattern of apologizing for American values.

"The president takes responsibility not just for the words that come from his mouth but also for the words that come from his ambassadors, from his administration, from his embassies, from his State Department," Romney said at a news conference in Florida. "They clearly sent mixed messages to the world, and the statement that came from the administration - and the embassy is the administration - the statement that came from the administration was a statement which is akin to apology, and I think was a severe miscalculation."

Romney made his remarks in response to comments from the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, regarding a protest and attack at that embassy. The embassy sought to distance the U.S. government from a film made in America by saying it condemned efforts to "hurt the religious feelings of Muslims." The film has offended Muslims by depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad in a negative light. Initial reports identified the film's director as an Israeli-American, but it now appears the film was actually made by an Egyptian living in Califorinia.

Obama did not mince words when asked about Romney's comments by CBS News later in the day.

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