JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama's administration of standing in apology for American values when it should have been voicing outrage, as he looked for political advantage in the deadly protests that caused a breach of the U.S. Embassy in Egypt and left four Americans dead in Libya.
The GOP nominee offered no regret for criticizing the president in the midst of an unfolding international crisis.
"It's never too early to condemn attacks on Americans and to defend our values," Romney said in a hastily called news conference at a campaign office in a Jacksonville strip mall.
Romney condemned the violent protests and expressed condolences to the families of those slain in Libya, including the U.S. ambassador there. He said that instead of speaking out forcefully against the initial Egyptian breach, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo had seemed to sympathize with the attacks by issuing a statement that he called "akin to an apology."
In fact, the embassy statement Romney referenced had been issued before protesters reached the embassy, as tensions were rising over an amateur film made in the United States that ridiculed Islam's Prophet Muhammed. When it became clear that there would be a demonstration outside the embassy, officials there issued a statement condemning "continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims."
Romney, who suggested the statement had been issued after the embassy grounds had been attacked, said: "An apology for America's values is never the right course." He held Obama personally accountable.
"The president takes responsibility not just for the words that come from his mouth but also for the words that come from his ambassadors, from his administration, from his embassies, from his State Department," Romney said. "They clearly sent mixed messages to the world."
Romney called it a "severe miscalculation" and said he would not hesitate to lay out his differences with Obama on foreign policy.
Overnight, the Obama campaign had criticized Romney for choosing to "launch a political attack" in the midst of the unfolding situation. And on Wednesday, Obama himself said his GOP rival "seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later." The president spoke in an interview with CBS News.
Romney did not back down, faulting Obama for a "hit-or-miss approach" to foreign policy and saying he would not hesitate to lay out "places of distinction and differences."
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said Romney's comments were "about as inappropriate as anything I have ever seen at this kind of a moment."
To speak out "before families have even been notified, before things have played out, is really not just inexperienced, it's irresponsible, it's callous, it's reckless," Kerry said.
The Romney campaign hastily shifted plans to hold the unscheduled news conference at a campaign office where the GOP nominee had planned to rally supporters. After the news conference, Romney met with the supporters and urged them to find a friend who voted for Obama last time and help sway them to go for the Republican ticket this time.
He spoke of the electoral importance of Florida and told dozens of people here that "we're looking to you to get the job done."
The morning was a scramble for the Romney team. Initial plans for a rally atmosphere were scrapped so that Romney could speak about the killings in Libya. Supporters and their campaign signs were led outside to erase the trappings of an overt political event.
Four American flags and a lectern were set up for Romney, who was whisked away after the news conference. The people who had shown up for the rally then returned for his brief campaign remarks.
At a fundraiser later Wednesday, Romney asked donors to join him in a moment of silence for the four people killed in the Libyan crisis.
Microphone in hand, he bowed his head for 10 seconds, as did others standing in the hotel ballroom. After that, Romney went right back to bashing Obama's record. Mocking Obama's slogan of "forward," Romney said "forewarned is a better term."
On the day that the Census Bureau reported that the ranks of America's poor remained stuck at record levels, Romney said Obama "pretends that he's the candidate of the middle class" but he's really "the candidate that's pushed the middle class into poverty."
"We're not the party of the rich," Romney said. "We're the party of the people who want to get rich."
Tickets to the fundraiser cost from $2,500 to $50,000.
The overall poverty rate stood at 15 percent in 2011, the Census Bureau reported, statistically unchanged from 15.1 percent in the previous year.