Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, said Tuesday that use of the term amounts to using racial “code words.”
“We in the South know what that means,” he said in an interview. “I take offense when people use those words. I have a problem with them.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other Republican congress members are calling for a deeper investigation into the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
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“We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us,” the president said.
“They are going to disagree with Rice’s politics, but if they do, just say she's wrong,” Clyburn added. “When you apply the word ‘incompetent,’ that personalizes this thing, it goes beyond politics, because it’s about who and what she is — it’s character assassination.”
The remarks echo comments last week by Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio), the new chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, who suggested Rice was being targeted for her race and sex.
Duncan was traveling overseas Tuesday and unavailable for comment. His spokesman, Allen Klump, called Clyburn’s comments “baseless, false and disappointing.”
House Republicans have also been sharply critical of another senior black administration official, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., for his handling of the “Fast and Furious” gun-tracking scandal. The probe ultimately led the GOP-controlled House to hold Holder in contempt of Congress.
But GOP aides said Tuesday that the new focus on the Libya attack is born out of genuine concern over a legitimate national security blunder: “The election’s over, we’re not talking about elections, we’re talking about the conduct of the administration,” said one aide who was unauthorized to speak publicly on the matter. “And there is genuine concern with how the administration handled this.”
A national survey published Monday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed that Republicans are particularly interested in the fallout from the Benghazi attacks. About 28 percent of respondents said they are closely monitoring the issue, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The survey found that Republicans (42 percent) are much more likely than Democrats (21 percent) or independents (22 percent) to be closely tracking the affair.