Mitt Romney draws reaction from LI pols on Obama criticism

Congressman Peter King, listening to a reporter during

Congressman Peter King, listening to a reporter during the Joint New York-Puerto RIco Delegation Breakfast event at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. (Aug. 29, 2012) (Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara)

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Peter King Wednesday defended Mitt Romney for criticizing President Barack Obama's response to the attacks on U.S. embassies in Egypt and Libya, yet he also faulted Romney for not waiting at least a day to do it.

"I think he is right on the larger point. But whether he should have made a statement at 10 o'clock last night or waited a day is another story," said King (R-Seaford), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Three congressional Democrats from Long Island, however, slammed the Republican presidential candidate, saying he sacrificed the security of the United States for political gain, showing naiveté and inexperience in foreign affairs.

"He did this in the interest of his own raw political ambitions," said Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Rosyln Heights), top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East.

"It is un-American, unpatriotic to try to tear down a president in the midst of a crisis," Ackerman said. "It only manages to inflame. Libya is not the only country that has matches."

Romney touched off the political storm when he said late Tuesday he was "outraged" by what he called an "apology for our values" by the U.S. embassy in Cairo. The embassy had put out a statement condemning a U.S.-made film disparaging Islam in an attempt to defuse angry protesters gathering outside its gates.

Democratic criticism mounted after it became clear Romney had issued his statement as another attack killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three staffers.

"It was one of the most appalling things I had ever heard," Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) said of Romney's statement. "If you want to be president, you wait for the facts. You don't just put out damaging talking points."

King and his Democratic colleagues disagreed about Romney's complaint, even after the Obama administration distanced itself from the embassy's statement.

"Why did the embassy put that statement out, even denouncing a film about the Koran? That's an apologetic statement," King said.

He said the United States never should be in the position of having to "pander" to any religious group to keep them from attacking us.

"Whatever film comes out in the U.S., no matter what anybody says, it is never an excuse to attack an embassy," King said.

Steve Israel said the U.S. embassy in Cairo wasn't apologizing.

"They condemned the attacks in Libya, but they also were trying to get a group of protesters to stand down," Israel said. "And I respect the judgments they made since they were the ones under fire."

King said Romney was making a larger point about Obama's Middle East policy.

"This in a way goes back to the president's apology tour that started in Cairo three years ago," he said. "I think he sends a very mixed message."

Asked about Romney's timing in making the criticism, King said, "I would have waited a day . . . I wouldn't say that as an ambassador is being killed."

He said, "To me this should be a larger political debate here as to what our role in the Middle East should be and how we should address radical Islam, how we should stand by our allies, and how we should address these emerging governments."

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) said such "political attacks by election candidates are an inappropriate and shameful distraction at this time."

Both New York senators, Democrats Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and all the Island's House members, including Tim Bishop of Southampton, condemned the attacks and mourned Stevens' death.

All also endorsed U.S. efforts to track down and bring the killers to justice.

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