Smith, LoBiondo caution Obama on Rice

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice speaks in the U.N. General Assembly. She said Gadhafi "has lost any legitimacy to rule." (Associated Press File Photo)

South Jersey Republican Congressmen Chris Smith and Frank LoBiondo warned President Obama Monday over naming Susan Rice as his new secretary of state, sharply criticizing her performance after the Sept. 11 attacks on the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

"We believe her misleading statements over the days and weeks following the attacks ... caused irreperable damage to her credibility both at home and around the world," said a letter signed by LoBiondo, Smith and 95 other Republican members of Congress. The letter was spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R., S.C.). LoBiondo and Smith were the only members of the Philadelphia-area delegation to sign.

The letter criticizes Rice's public comments after the attacks, which killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

"Rice is widely viewed as having either willfully or incompetently misled the American public," the letter says. "We believe that making her the face of U.S. foreign policy in your second term would greatly undermine your desire to improve U.S. relations with the world and continue to build trust with the American people."

Rice has become a lightning rod for Republican criticism. She originally attributed the Benghazi attacks to a spontaneous demonstration, though the Obama administration later said it was a planned terrorist assault. The administration has said Rice's original statements were based on talking points given to her by intelligence agencies.

Republicans argue that the White House knew, or should have known, that it was terrorism all along and downplayed that angle for political purposes.

Obama has strongly defended Rice, and hinted last week that he would still be willing to appoint her secretary of state. Hillary Clinton is planning to leave that post.