The White House was on the defense Wednesday morning for statements made by President Obama -- who labeled Friday's Paris massacre that left 129 dead a "setback" -- and Secretary of State John Kerry's claim that the terrorists who in January attacked Charlie Hebdo had a "rationale."
Asked about the comments during a contentious interview on Fox News, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest suggested too much attention was being paid to officials' words.
"I would encourage you to spend just as much time focusing on the president's actions as you do his words," Earnest said on "Fox & Friends."
Earnest noted that Obama, speaking in Turkey on Monday, also called the attacks "sickening." Plus he said Obama called the French president to offer support -- while strategizing with his own security advisers on the U.S. response. Earnest said the president is consulting on "what sort of military steps we could take to ramp up our efforts inside of Syria and make sure we can support our French allies."
But the words of both Obama and Kerry have stirred concerns about the gravity with which the administration is treating the threat.
Kerry discussed the Charlie Hebdo attack -- an Al Qaeda affiliate attack against employees at a satirical publication that had published Prophet Muhammad cartoons -- during remarks on Tuesday to U.S. Embassy employees in Paris. He at first suggested there was "legitimacy" to those attacks but then corrected himself and said they had a "rationale."
He said: "There's something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo, and I think everybody would feel that. There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of -- not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, okay, they're really angry because of this and that. This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn't to aggrieve one particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorize people."
Afterward, State Department spokesman John Kirby defended the secretary's remarks.
.@JohnKerry didn't justify Hebdo attacks, simply explained how terrorists tried to. As he said at time, it was a cowardly & despicable act.
— John Kirby (@statedeptspox) November 18, 2015
The administration's comments on the terror threat, though, have even started to draw some Democratic criticism.
After Obama said, in an interview shortly before Friday's attacks, that ISIS is "contained," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told MSNBC that "ISIL is not contained."
"ISIL is expanding," she said.
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, who typically aligns with the president, scolded Obama in an op-ed.
"Obama's tone in addressing the Paris atrocity was all wrong," he wrote. "At times he was patronizing, at other times he seemed annoyed and almost dismissive. The president said, essentially, that he had considered all the options and decided that even a large-scale terrorist attack in the heart of a major European capital was not enough to make him reconsider his policy."
Meanwhile, Earnest continued to defend the military strategy and stand by plans to bring Syrian refugees into the U.S.
"That is still the plan," Earnest said of the refugee plan. "The reason for that is quite simple. The first thing that people should understand, refugees who are admitted to the United States undergo more rigorous screening than anybody else who tries to enter the country. Typically, it takes between 18 and 24 months for people to be cleared. ... These are the victims of ISIL. These are the victims of that terrible war inside of Syria."