Under heavy fire from Republicans over the deadly attack in Libya, President Barack Obama told "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart on Thursday that his response had not suffered from "confusion." But Obama admitted that communication among government agencies and to the American public was "not optimal" and needs fixing.
Stewart had asked about the muddled public explanation for what happened in the Sept. 11 attack that claimed the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, at the American compound in Benghazi. The acerbic comic had also suggested poor communication among government agencies led to public pronouncements that were "not the optimal response."
"Here's what I'll say: If four Americans get killed, it's not optimal. We're going to fix it. All of it," Obama said, according to pool reporters David Nakamura of the Washington Post and Mike Memoli of the Los Angeles Times.
"And what happens, during the course of a presidency, is that the government is a big operation and any given time something screws up. And you make sure that you find out what's broken and you fix it," the president added.
When Stewart prodded the president about "confusion in the administration" in its response to attack, Obama responded that "we weren't confused about the fact that four Americans had been killed.
"I wasn't confused about the fact that we needed to ramp up diplomatic security around the world right after it happened," Obama continued. "I wasn't confused about the fact that we had to investigate exactly what happened so it gets fixed. And I wasn't confused about the fact that we're going to hunt down whoever did it."
Republicans led by Mitt Romney have been blasting the administration over the attack, focusing on the State Department's decision to reject requests from staff in Libya for greater security and on the time it took for the president and top aides to label the attack "terrorism."
Obama listed the strike among "acts of terror" like the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in remarks in the Rose Garden on Sept. 12, and again at campaign events in Las Vegas and Colorado. But other top administration officials repeatedly professed not to know whether it was terrorism and instead pointed the finger at Muslim anger over an Internet video ridiculing Islam—before eventually lining up behind the charge that it was terrorism.
Obama defended the way his administration shared information with the public after the attack: "Every piece of information that we get, as we got it we laid it out to the American people. The picture eventually gets fully filled in."
It was Obama's sixth appearance on the satirical program, and his second since taking office. He last appeared on the program on Oct. 27, 2010—days before the mid-term elections in which Republicans romped. (He has been on "Meet The Press" as many times—but not since 2009).
Turning to the election, Stewart asked Obama whether he could give voters a reason to vote for him—not just one to vote against Romney. Obama noted he had withdrawn American forces from Iraq, enacted health care reform, rescued the auto industry and insisted he had a "strong story to tell." But he underlined that he also viewed his job as "preventing things that won't work."
Republicans led by Romney have accused the president of failing to lay out a second-term agenda.
On another national security issue, Obama insisted, "I still want to lose Guantanamo. We haven't been able to get that through Congress."
He also noted that "one of the things we have to do is put a legal architecture in place" for detaining and trying terrorists. And we need Congressional help to do that—so that not only am I reined in, but any president's reined in in terms of some of the decisions we're making."
Obama, who frequently cites inroads against al-Qaida in his campaign remarks, admitted that "it's true that al-Qaida is still active, at least sort of remnants of it are staging in other parts of North Africa and the Middle East."
"Sometimes you've got to make some tough calls, but you can do so in a way that's consistent with international law and with American law," he said, according to the pool report.
It wasn't all serious stuff. Stewart asked the president how many time per week Vice President Joe Biden shows up at a meeting in a wet bathing suit. Obama replied that he had responded to that with a presidential directive.
"We had to stop that," he said dryly. "I gotta say though, he looks pretty good."