Republicans are assailing President Obama's decision to attend two fundraisers in New York City Thursday night after 295 people perished when a Malaysian passenger jet crashed in Ukraine after an apparent rocket attack and Israel launched a ground war in Gaza the same day.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus took to Twitter to launch a broadside against Obama for going through with the fundraisers benefiting House and Senate Democrats.
“With all that is going on, the last thing the President should be doing is fundraising right now. Now is a time for leadership,” Priebus tweeted.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was far harsher in his assessment.
“I don't understand this president ... this is what we used to call in the military A-W-O-L,” McCain told Fox News Thursday night. “... There's a direct lost of American lives here and the president goes to a fundraiser? Help me out.”
Twenty-three Americans are believed to have died in the crash, although U.S. authorities have yet to confirm those numbers.
Fox News played an excerpt of White House spokesman Josh Earnest's comments from earlier in the week arguing that Obama's foreign policies have, in a number of cases, “substantially improved the tranquility of the global community.”
Sean Hannity asked McCain if he could cite an area of the world where the tranquility has been improved because of Obama's foreign policy.
“Wherever there's a fundraiser,” McCain deadpanned.
Republican congressional leaders appeared to be holding their fire Thursday.
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a solemn statement: “Many innocents were killed today. It is horrifying, and we await the facts. Right now, we should all take a moment to reflect, count our blessings, and convey our prayers to the loved ones of the victims.”
But other House GOP lawmakers didn't hesitate to go on the attack.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., compared Obama's decision to go forward with the fundraisers to the day after the Benghazi attacks, when the president went to a fundraiser in Las Vegas, and last week, when he headlined two in Texas amid a border crisis.
“This is a pattern of behavior,” King told Fox News. “In a crisis [Obama] tends to zone out.”
The onslaught of criticism began earlier in the day after Obama devoted less than a minute to the Malaysian jetliner crash then pivoted to casual jokes in a speech in Delaware about America's broken bridges and roads.
During his remarks, Obama said the crash appeared to be a “terrible tragedy,” pledged to determine if Americans were killed and offered U.S. assistance to help determine exactly how it happened and who is responsible.
“Right now we're working to determine whether there were American citizens on board. That is our first priority,” he said. “And I've directed my national security team to stay in close contact with the Ukrainian government. The United States will offer any assistance we can to help determine what happened and why. And as a country, our thoughts and prayers are with all the families and passengers, wherever they call home.”
Then he plowed ahead with his planned speech, jubilantly joking about how the better-looking Biden, the vice president's son Beau, was at the event and how Treasury Jack Lew's signature is on the dollar bill although it's hard to tell because it's so illegible.
Meanwhile, top Democrats on the Senate Armed Services and House Foreign Affairs Committees were labeling the downing of the airliner "an act of war" and and "act of terror."
“The shooting down, if it's true, of a passenger airliner is an act of terror,” Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Daily Beast. “It's no different from the acts of terror Iran has been perpetrating for many years … The world community should get together and decide on a solidified response.”
Because Russian President Vladimir Putin was supporting the pro-Russian separatists accused of shooting down the Boeing 777, Putin was at least indirectly responsible, Engel said.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the perpetrators should be held accountable.
“Whoever did it should pay a full price,” he said. “If it’s by a country, either directly or indirectly, then it could be considered an act of war.”
Aboard Air Force One on his way to the fundraisers, Obama phoned Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the White House provided read-outs of those phone calls.
Upon arriving in New York City, Obama first called Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss the crash, as well as recent developments in Israel and Gaza, then convened a call with senior members of his national security team, directing them to continue to offer “whatever assistance is necessary to advance the international effort to determine what happened,” the White House said in a read-out.
He then traveled to the Trump Place Apartments in New York's Upper West Side for a $32,400-a-plate dinner for 30 supporters and later to another event hosted by the House Majority PAC, which an official said was not technically a fundraiser because there were no tickets or cost for admission, although only a “select group” of House Democratic supporters were attending.
Kerry, for his part, canceled a speaking engagement with Jewish leaders Thursday evening. Instead, he called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and issued a statement afterward backing the country's decision to defend itself but also stressing the need to avoid further escalation and restore a cease-fire as soon as possible.