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The return of terror politics

From Jim Acosta, CNN
President Obama said the nation will do everything possible to protect the country from terrorists.
President Obama said the nation will do everything possible to protect the country from terrorists.
  • Homeland Secretary initially said "system worked" in response to the Detroit terror scare
  • Top Republican complains the White House isn't sharing information
  • Sen. Joe Lieberman brushed off the notion the president has gone soft on terror

Washington (CNN) -- When President Obama spoke out on the terrorism scare in Detroit, Michigan, he entered a debate that had already begun over his administration's new approach to combating terrorism.

"As a nation we will do everything in our power to protect our country," Obama said while vacationing in Hawaii. "We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland."

Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab is being held for allegedly trying to blow up a flight carrying 300 passengers on Christmas Day. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility Monday for the attack, saying it was in retaliation for U.S. strikes on Yemeni soil.

On Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano initially gave something of a thumbs up to the government's handling of the Detroit terror scare.

"One thing I want to point out is that the system worked. Everybody played an important role here. The passengers and crew of the flight took appropriate action," Napolitano said on CNN's State of the Union.

Within minutes, Republicans went on the attack.

"Earlier today Secretary Napolitano said the system worked. in fact the system did not work," Rep. Peter King, R-New York, said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

When pressed, Napolitano later dialed back her remarks.

Video: The return of terror politics

"That's a phrase taken out of context," she said. "Our system did not work in this incident. No one is happy with that."

Now, members of Congress are asking questions, such as how the suspected terrorist could fly in the first place after his own father had warned authorities his son was possibly under the influence of religious extremists.

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Michigan, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said the White House isn't sharing information. He posted a message on Twitter accusing the administration of "stonewalling."

"The threat to the United States is real. I think this administration has downplayed it," Hoekstra said. "They need to recognize it, identify it."

He said that is "the only way we are going to defeat it."

Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who has sometimes frustrated the White House, brushed off the notion that the president has gone soft on terror.

"I don't think it's fair to lay this on President Obama or the Obama administration," said Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. "A lot of these practices are ones that have been going on for quite a while."

The White House, meanwhile, said those security procedures -- some dating back to the Bush administration -- are now under review.

"I think the best New Year's resolution that we can make in the new year is to make the security of the American people a nonpartisan issue not a political football that we punt back and forth," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Hearings on the Detroit terror scare are planned for early next month. Republicans have hinted that there should have been a big red flag next to the suspect's name.

"You would have thought this would go right to the top of the list," Hoekstra said Tuesday on CBS' "Early Show."

Obama said the federal system for tracking potential terrorism suspects will be reviewed because the latest incident showed it had possible failings.

"Apparently the suspect in the Christmas incident was in this system, but not on a watch list, such as the so-called no-fly list," Obama said. "So I have ordered a thorough review, not only of how information related to the subject was handled, but of the overall watch-list system and how it can be strengthened."

CNN's Ed Hornick contributed to this report.