By Jill Dougherty
Buffeted by Republican criticism for its handling of last September's deadly terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, the Obama administration is mounting a coordinated response.
Thursday, at a Rose Garden news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Barack Obama went out of his way to challenge Republicans to fully fund security for America's diplomats.
Republicans have ripped the administration for not providing adequate security for the Benghazi mission at which four Americans, including Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, were killed.
The White House, in response, has accused Republican lawmakers of cutting diplomatic security funding.
"I am intent on making sure that we do everything we can to prevent another tragedy like this from happening," Obama said. "But that means we owe it to them and all who serve to do everything in our power to protect our personnel serving overseas."
The president said the administration has been taking steps recommended by the Accountability Review Board report, completed last December, that examined the circumstances surrounding the Benghazi attack and made 29 recommendations.
"I'm calling on Congress to work with us to support and fully fund our budget request to improve the security of our embassies around the world," Obama said.
After the Benghazi attack the State Department reviewed security at posts around the world and submitted a request to reallocate $1.4 billion in fiscal year 2013 resources to begin work this year that was approved by the Congress.
The next fiscal year budget request, the administration says, provides over $4 billion for embassy security programs, including $2.2 billion to support increased embassy security construction recommend by the review board.
In a move coordinated with the White House, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez on Thursday introduced a bill funding construction at high-risk, high-threat diplomatic posts around the world.
The New Jersey Democrat said the State Department currently is allowed to construct eight to 10 facilities a year but is funded for only two to three.
The bill also would fund Arabic language instruction and provide more training for diplomatic security personnel.
In a nod to Republican criticism that no officials were fired in the wake of the Benghazi attacks, Menendez pointed out that "at the administration's request" the bill "will authorize disciplinary action in cases of unsatisfactory leadership by senior officials."
The new bill and Obama's comments followed the release Wednesday of almost 100 pages of e-mails between administration officials working out controversial "talking points" on Benghazi that were relied on by the administration to explain events around the attack and that Republicans suggest were downplayed for political reasons.
At the State Department, CNN asked spokeswoman Jen Psaki whether the administration's counter attack of Republican criticism was "damage control."
"I think this is actually the opposite of politicizing it," Psaki replied. "They're talking about what's important about this debate we've been having publicly."
"The secretary has raised this, as has the president today and in the past several days," she added. "While there's been a lot of talk about e-mail and other issues, what their focus is on is protecting the men and women who are serving around the world and taking many steps we can do to achieve that."
Out of the 29 recommendations by the review board, Psaki said the State Department has addressed nearly all of them so far, including creating 151 new diplomatic security positions. Forty-eight are expected to begin this July and another 48 are planned to begin in early September, she said.
As for the four State Department officials placed on administrative leave over the Benghazi attack, she said a review process begun by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues.
"Secretary Kerry has been briefed regularly and will be making a decision soon," she added.
But Republicans aren't letting up.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky told CNN's Wolf Blitzer: "Ultimately, the buck stops with who runs an organization."