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Parties Hone Post-Debate Attack Lines on Foreign Policy

The tough questioning of Vice President Joseph Biden on Libya and GOP vice presidential nominee and Rep. Paul Ryan on Afghanistan and Iran provided a messaging boost to both parties today.

The White House sought to clean up Biden’s response on Libya, where he said that “we” didn’t know that requests for additional security had been made. Press Secretary Jay Carney said today that Biden was referring to the White House, not the State Department, which had denied a request for more security in the country. Furthermore, Carney said that such security decisions rightfully belong with the agencies and would not be brought to the White House’s attention.

“It is certainly not the case that assignment of security personnel at diplomatic facilities is made here at the White House, nor should it be,” Carney said.

And he took Republicans to task for cutting Obama’s budget request for diplomatic security.

“I find it rich that charges are made about concern over diplomatic security, by those who routinely slash funding for diplomatic security in order to pay for tax cuts,” he said.

Romney, however, ripped Biden.

“The vice president directly contradicted the sworn testimony of State Department officials,” Romney said today at a campaign stop. He accused Biden of “doubling down on denial.”

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, also criticized Biden’s comments.

“Within 24 hours of the incident, the administration knew that this was an orchestrated terrorist attack, and they clearly were aware of the specific details, including requests for additional security, that have finally been made public this week,” Corker said. “With the vice president continuing this ruse with his comments last night, all Americans should ask what the administration is trying to hide.”

Democrats, however, saw an opening on Ryan’s answers on the prospects for more war, given voters’ weariness after more than a decade of conflicts in the Islamic world. Ryan did not make an unequivocal commitment to ending the war in Afghanistan by 2014 — something Biden did — although Ryan said the Romney/Ryan ticket shares that timeline as a goal. Biden sought to pin down Ryan on Iran and Syria as well, deflecting Ryan’s criticism of American leadership by asking if the Romney/Ryan ticket wants another war.

“I think he pointed out a major weakness of the Romney/Ryan ticket,” said Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) of Biden’s repeated questioning of whether a President Mitt Romney would keep the U.S. in Afghanistan indefinitely, or even take the country to war with Iran.

Schumer said Ryan gave the impression that, where Afghanistan is concerned, “they seem to want to stay there forever. ... I think that’s not going to go over well.”

Carney also sought to reinforce Biden’s statement that the war would be over in 2014.

“We are leaving in 2014, period,” Biden said last night, even though the White House has previously talked of keeping some residual force in the country after 2014.

“It’s our policy to withdraw our forces by 2014,” Carney said. “That’s what the vice president made clear, that’s what the president has made clear. ... It’s an issue around which Gov. Romney and Congressman Ryan have been extraordinarily unclear, repeatedly and habitually. ... We are ending that war in 2014. That is the policy of the president of the United States.”

A Ryan aide dismissed the attacks.

“If anyone stepped in it on Afghan withdrawal last night it was Joe Biden. He seemed to forget that it’s the administration’s policy to allow for a residual force after 2014 — an approach we agree with,” Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said. “Must have slipped Mr. Biden’s mind.”

Schumer, meanwhile, said Democrats would remain mostly focused on the economy, which will still trump foreign policy in voters’ minds.

“I still think the economic issues will be 80 percent of this election,” he said.

Emily Pierce contributed to this report.

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