Politics & Government

President Obama returns to Miami, but now he’s on defense over Libya, debate

President Barack Obama returns to the University of Miami for his third visit Thursday, but this time there’s a new twist.

After a lackluster debate last week, Obama’s campaign is looking wobbly for the first time in months.

And he’s getting attacked at what used to be a strong point: Foreign policy.

House Republicans Wednesday held a special hearing into the terrorist attacks on a U.S. consulate in Libya on Sept. 11, when four diplomatic staffers were killed.

Amid the four grueling hours of testimony, Obama administration officials admitted they refused to beef up security before the attacks, and they made misleading statements about what probably caused the attacks.

Obama has steered clear of Libya in his standard stump speech, which more often includes his foreign-policy successes.

"Al Qaeda is on its heels and Osama bin Laden is no more," Obama said Monday in a speech. After today’s UM event, he’ll head to a JW Marriott Marquis fundraiser with his campaign’s national co-chair, actress Eva Longoria.

Obama has also stepped up his attacks on Republican Mitt Romney’s veracity, saying his opponent is “hiding” his record.

Democrats have also tried to portray the House Oversight and Government Reform committee hearings Wednesday as a political show, noting that a lead lawmaker Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, is a Romney surrogate.

Romney has been surging in national polls after winning last week’s debates. Romney’s improved national standing will likely be mirrored in polls in Florida, a must-win battleground state for Romney that reflects the nation. Until last week, Obama was nursing an inside-the-error margin lead over Romney in Florida and nationwide.

This is Obama’s fifth-straight appearance at a college campus, a sign he feels the need to get out a youth vote that helped him win office in 2008. Since then, polls indicate, young people are relatively less enthusiastic about voting for the Democrat.

After the debate, Obama began criticizing Romney for saying he wanted to cut public-broadcast money and thereby go after Big Bird on Sesame Street. Obama’s campaign has switched tacks more recently and called out Romney for recent statements that seemed to downplay his commitment to crack down on abortion, a topic he more frequently mentioned during the GOP primary.

Obama’s campaign also noted that, during the debate, Romney misrepresented his healthcare plan by saying it covers pre-existing conditions. It doesn’t.

But after Wednesday’s hearing, Republicans had enough evidence to accuse the president’s administration of concealing information about the Benghazi consulate attacks that killed an American ambassador and three foreign-service workers.

Just before the attack, the administration had drawn down security forces in Benghazi and they denied requests to beef it up, said Andrew Wood, a former special forces lieutenant colonel who led a Libya-security team.

Wood, testifying Wednesday, said he recommended that the U.S. close the Benghazi mission as violent attacks increased. Wood also said other Western nation’s had withdrawn.

“We were the last flag flying in Benghazi,” Wood said. “I urged them to do something, anything to include withdrawal from Benghazi, although I knew that was impossible."

Wood, who had left Libya when the final deadly attack happened, said it was "instantly recognizable" as a terrorist assault.

But Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ambassador Susan Rice initially indicated the attacks were linked to a web video that offended Muslims worldwide. At the same time his administration was indicating the attack was “spontaneous,” some in his administration were saying it was terror-related.

Last month, when he visited the University of Miami, he declined to call it the attacks an act of terrorism. At the same time, his White House spokesman reversed the administration’s position and said it as “self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack.”

Hours after the Sept. 11 attacks, Romney criticized the president’s handling of the situation. But his comments and timing had such a political ring to it that made some fellow Republicans queasy.

“Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later,” Obama said at the time to 60 Minutes.

Since then, though, more evidence has shown that Obama and his administration also had a ready-fire-aim response to the attacks.

More recently, the family of one of the murdered foreign-service workers, Glen Doherty, has asked Romney to stop mentioning him on the campaign trail.

“I don’t trust Romney,” his mother, Barbara Doherty told WHDH.com 7 News in Boston. “He shouldn’t make my son’s death part of his political agenda. It’s wrong to use these brave young men, who wanted freedom for all, to degrade Obama.”

After the speech and fundraiser Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden debates Romney’s running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan. Democrats hope Biden does a better job against Ryan than Obama did against Romney.

“I was a little disappointed,” said Rabia Duggan, a 36-year-old Miami Beach Obama supported who voted early for him Wednesday.

“I want to see more spirit,” she said, “more fire.”