White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday defended Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s statement before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that it doesn’t make a difference what administration officials first said in explaining how  Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were slain in last September’s attack in Benghazi, Libya.

Carney told reporters at the daily press briefing that there has been an “obvious political obsession over a series of talking points” that bears no relevance to the essential issues at stake.

“No one took more seriously the fact that we lost four American lives in Benghazi than the president of the United States and the secretary of state of the United States,” Carney said.

“And whatever was said — based on information provided by the intelligence community  — on a series of Sunday shows bears no ultimate relevance” to the question of what happened and who was responsible for the attack, he added.

The talking points – long a focus of conservatives skeptical of the administration’s changing explanation of the Benghazi attack  — were at the center of a heated exchange between Clinton and freshman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) during Wednesday’s Senate hearing.

While the Benghazi hearing was the focus of most reporters’ questions, speculation about the 2016 presidential race also found its way into Wednesday’s briefing.

At one point, Carney caused a brief stir when he referred to the secretary of state as “President Clinton” rather than as “Secretary Clinton.”

He chalked that up to the fact that he had a “nice, long conversation with President Clinton – Bill Clinton – just the other day.”

Asked later about a Politico story quoting an unnamed Democrat saying that Vice President Biden is “intoxicated by the idea” of running for president in 2016, Carney dismissed the report.

“Whose words were those? The Onion?” he quipped.