President Barack Obama on Monday rejected criticism of his handling of the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death – and questioned whether his Republican presidential challenger would have made the same decision to take out the al Qaida leader.
“I said that I’d go after bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him and I did,” Obama said at a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. “If there are others who have said one thing and now suggest they’d do something else, then I’d go ahead and let them explain it."
Though he didn’t mention Romney by name, the remarks plunged Obama directly into a roiling dispute between his re-election campaign and Republicans, who accuse Obama of politicizing a unifying event by taking credit for ordering the raid that got bin Laden.
Hours earlier, Romney, while campaigning in New Hampshire, said he would’ve made the same decision, adding, “Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.”
Obama – whose campaign last week released a video touting his decision last May to order U.S. Navy SEALs into Pakistan to take out bin Laden – rejected any suggestion that there had been an “excessive celebration” of bin Laden’s death at the White House.
"The American people rightly remember what we as a country accomplished in bringing to justice somebody who killed over 3,000 of our citizens," Obama said. "I think for us to use that time for some reflection, to give thanks to those who participated is entirely appropriate, and that’s what’s been taking place."
Obama’s re-election campaign released the video Friday, a day after Vice President Joe Biden suggested a new bumper sticker for the Obama campaign: “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.” Biden, too, questioned whether a President Romney could have said the same. (Romney had criticized Obama in 2008 for saying he would order U.S. forces to attack bin Laden in Pakistan if he had clear intelligence that was where the terrorist was.)
A day later, the Obama campaign put up a video featuring former President Bill Clinton, who praises Obama for ordering the strike on bin Laden’s compound. That video also questions whether Romney would’ve made the same decision – repeating his comments from 2007 in which he said it wasn’t worth spending billions “just trying to catch one person." He said a few days later that “it’s more than Osama bin Laden. But he is going to pay, and he will die."
In addition, Obama last week conducted his first-ever interview in the White House’s Situation Room – where planning for the May 2, 2011, raid occurred – to talk about the killing. The interview with NBC will air Wednesday – on the raid’s anniversary.
Romney’s campaign, which noted that the former Massachusetts governor had congratulated Obama for the raid, accused the president of using it now for political purposes.
“It’s now sad to see the Obama campaign seek to use an event that unified our country to once again divide us, in order to try to distract voters’ attention from the failures of his administration,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.
Republicans pointed out that Obama, days after the killing, had refused to release the post-mortem photos of bin Laden, saying, “We don’t need to spike the football.”
Arizona Sen. John McCain, Obama’s 2008 Republican presidential opponent, accused Obama of “diminishing the memory of September 11th and the killing of Osama bin Laden by turning it into a cheap political attack ad.”
“Barack Obama is not only trying to score political points by invoking Osama bin Laden, he is doing a shameless end-zone dance to help himself get re-elected,” McCain said.
The death of the al Qaida leader gave Obama a major boost last spring, with support for the president rising significantly among Republicans and independents.
Romney is scheduled to travel Tuesday to New York City, where he and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani will meet with city firefighters at a Manhattan fire station. The event is sure to evoke memories of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks – and how Giuliani was hailed as a hero for his actions in the tragedy’s aftermath. Democrats have criticized Republicans before for invoking the 9/11 attacks for political purposes.
David Lightman of the Washington Bureau contributed.