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DANVILLE, Ky. — In a battle of understudies, Vice President Biden and Republican rival Paul Ryan clashed Thursday in their sole debate over foreign policy, with sharp exchanges over the U.S. explanation of the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed four Americans.
Ryan was aggressive from the outset, challenging the Obama administration’s first accounts of the attacks, which at first claimed that an anti-Muslim video inflamed a crowd rather than calling it a terrorist attack. He noted that President Obama referred to the video six times in a speech to the United Nations after the Libya attack.
“This is becoming more troubled by the day,” Ryan said of the still emerging details of what the administration knew in those first days after the attack. Ryan said it was “indicative of a broader problem . . . the unraveling of the Obama foreign policy.”
Biden defended the administration’s response, saying it relied on intelligence reports that turned out to be false. “We will get to the bottom of it,” he said.
Biden argued that Obama has a steady and solid foreign policy. “The president has led with a steady hand and a clear vision,” he said.
Ryan, the fresh-faced congressman who had never debated on the national stage, despite his 14 years in the House, betrayed no signs of nervousness about the showdown with Biden, a veteran of 36 years of Senate debates.
Their meeting, televised nationally from Centre College, was moderated by Martha Raddatz of ABC. The candidates sat at a table, fielding domestic and foreign policy questions, the same format used by vice presidential candidates Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman when they debated at the same college in 2000. The format, like to a Sunday talk show, tends to produce more conversational exchanges.