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President Barack Obama showed true grit.

Obama stood tall behind the podium at the White House Wednesday and defended U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice like a little sister who was being picked on by schoolyard bullies.

The bullies, however, are Republicans.

“If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me,” Obama said with conviction. “And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received and to besmirch her reputation, is outrageous.”

And then, with a firm look from the lectern, the president bristled as he issued a stern warning.

“When they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target,” Obama added, “then they’ve got a problem with me.”

It was Obama’s first news conference since he was re-elected to the White House last week and the president appeared confident and ready to take on a fight with Republicans if necessary.

“She has done exemplary work,” Obama said, in his defense of Rice, the first African American woman to be appointed as U.N. Ambassador.  “And should I choose — if I think that she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity — the State Department, then I will nominate her. That’s not a determination that I’ve made yet.”

Obama defended Rice against accusations by Senator John McCain, (R-Arizona) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)  who have accused Rice of misrepresenting the facts in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, when terrorists killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

The president is considering elevating Rice to Secretary of State, replacing Hillary Clinton who is leaving her post at the end of the year. But Republicans have vowed to block Rice’s appointment, who would need confirmation from Congress to take the job.

So on Wednesday, Obama drew a proverbial line on the sand and has a serious decision to make:  Avoid a showdown and back down from McCain and Graham by not nominating Rice, or nominate her and prepare for a prolonged fight with angry congressional Republicans.

Whatever Obama decides, he made it clear to the world that he supports Rice and he won’t let Republicans tarnish her reputation and disrespect the office of the President.

But Graham isn’t backing down.

“Mr. President, don’t think for one minute I don’t hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi,” Graham said in a statement. “I think you failed as Commander in Chief before, during, and after the attack.”

“I am dead-set on making sure that we don’t promote anybody who was an essential player in the Benghazi debacle,” Graham told reporters, referring to Rice.

Rice, 47, served as an adviser to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and was later appointed to represent the United States at U.N. headquarters in New York. Rice said that her parents taught her to “never use race as an excuse or advantage”, and as a young girl she “dreamed of becoming the first U.S. Senator from the District of Columbia”

On Wednesday, Obama protected Rice who has become a flashpoint issue for Republicans who are still stinging from Obama’s decisive victory over Mitt Romney.

Republicans couldn’t oust Obama from the White House during the election, so now they’ll try to derail his high-level appointments and Rice is clearly in the GOP crosshairs.

And since Obama has signaled that he’s not going to let Republicans steamroll a black woman who he considers a friend, the president has set a no-nonsense tone for his next four years in the White House.

In plain talk: Bring it on.