Clyburn: Calling Susan Rice ‘Incompetent’ Is a Racial Code Word

By Elizabeth Harrington | November 20, 2012 | 2:56 PM EST

Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) (AP Photo)

( – Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said criticism that Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice was “incompetent” for blaming the Benghazi terrorist attack on an obscure YouTube video is a racist “code word.”

On CNN’s “Starting Point,” Nov. 20, host Soledad O’Brien asked Clyburn about a letter signed by 97 of his Republican colleagues in the House calling on President Barack Obama to not nominate Rice for Secretary of State, based on the talking points she used on five morning talk shows following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

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In that deadly assault, the U.S. ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans were killed, including two former Navy SEALS.

The congressional letter states that Rice is “widely viewed as having either willfully or incompetently misled the American public in the Benghazi matter,” after her insistence 5 days later (on Sept. 16)  that the attack was the result of a spontaneous demonstration over an anti-Islamic video.

CNN’s O’Brien asked Rep. Clyburn about the phrasing in the letter that Rice was “incompetent” and would “undermine” attempts to improve U.S. relations if she were Secretary of State.

“You know these are code words,” Clyburn said.  “We heard them during the campaign.  During this recent campaign we heard [Mitt Romney surrogate] Senator [John] Sununu calling our president lazy, incompetent.”

“These kinds of terms, those of us—especially those of us who were born and raised in the South—we would hear these little words and phrases all of our lives and we get insulted by them,” he said.  “Susan Rice is as competent as anybody you will find.”

Clyburn said using the word “certainly causes a big problem for me.”

“I don’t like those words -- say that she was wrong for doing it, but don’t call her incompetent,” he said.  “That is something totally different.  A lot of very competent people sometimes make errors.”

While criticizing those who have objections to Rice, Clyburn himself criticized former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a Republican.

“To call her [Rice] incompetent, a PhD., Rhodes Scholar being called incompetent by someone who can’t hold a candle to her intellectually?” said Clyburn.

“Sen. [John] McCain called her incompetent as well, but he told us that Sarah Palin was a very competent person to be vice president of the United States,” Clyburn said.  “That ought to tell you a little bit about his judgment.”

After a closed-door hearing on Capitol Hill on Friday, new details emerged about the talking points Rice used in her TV appearances following the attack on the Benghazi compound.

Democrats now insist Rice was reading from “unclassified” talking points, though the original CIA talking points indicated it was a pre-planned terrorist attack. Former CIA Director David Petraeus also testified that he knew "almost immediately" that Ansar al Sharia, an al Qaeda linked group, was responsible for the attack.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the unclassified talking points put together by the CIA changed when they got to administration appointees.

"[T]here was not an intelligence failure,” he said.  "The intelligence community had it right, and they had it right early.”

“What happened was it worked its way up through the system of the so-called talking points, which everyone refers to, and then it went up to what’s called a deputy’s committee. … It went to the so-called deputy’s committee, that’s populated by appointees from the administration,” Rogers said.  “That’s where the narrative changed.  And so how that thing got back to Rice, I think, is probably another question."