WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — President Barack Obama tells Senate Republicans to come after him if they have a problem with a member of his staff.

Responding to criticism regarding the possible nomination of Susan Rice to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, Obama calls out those for going after the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations because they think “she’s an easy target.”

“She has done exemplary work. She has represented the United States and our interests in the United Nations with skill and professionalism and toughness and grace,” Obama said during his Wednesday news conference. “As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her. If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them.”

Rice has been heavily criticized for initially saying the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans was due to the anti-Muhammad film protest and not terror related.

“We will do whatever is necessary to block the nomination that’s within our power as far as Susan Rice is concerned,” Sen. John McCain, the top GOP senator on the Armed Services Committee, told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference.

Said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.: “I don’t trust her.”

Obama called their comments on Rice “outrageous.”

“For them to go after the U.N. ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation of intelligence that she had received and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous. … When they go after the U.N. ambassador apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me,” Obama said.

The two Republican lawmakers along with Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire are pressing for a special, Watergate-style select Senate committee to investigate the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. They complained that separate inquiries by various Senate panels will fail to get to the truth and a comprehensive probe “up to and including the president of the United States” was warranted.

They planned to introduce a resolution calling for the special committee on Wednesday afternoon. However, they face opposition from Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said a select committee is not necessary.

Pressed on reports that Obama is considering Rice for the top job at the State Department, the GOP lawmakers were withering in their criticism of her response to the Sept. 11 attack, citing her comments five days after the incident that it was the result of an angry response in the Arab world to an anti-Muslim video.

McCain said the information that Rice relayed on the Sunday talk shows was false and she should have known that it was a terrorist attack.

Graham argued that it makes no sense to promote “anybody who was an essential player in the Benghazi debacle.” The lawmaker said he has not been impressed with her work at the United Nations, contending that Russia and China have ignored the United States.

Graham said Rice is more of a “political operative” than a candidate to be the nation’s top diplomat.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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