FAIRFAX, Va. — Mitt Romney reframed his attacks on President Obama's foreign policy on Thursday, making a point to call the deaths of four diplomats in Libya a "tragedy" before pivoting to a critique of the defense spending cuts included in sequestration and on trade with China.

Romney began his speech at a park here speaking of the events in North Africa before being interrupted by a protestor.


"I would offer a moment of silence, but one guy doesn't want to be silenced, so we're going to keep going," he said, moving on to attack Obama for the 2011 bipartisan compromise to raise the debt ceiling that set in motion looming across-the-board cuts to both domestic and defense programs.

"Ever since FDR we've had the capacity to be engaged in two conflicts at once and he's said no, we're going to cut that back to only one conflict," the GOP presidential nominee said of his rival.

Romney spent much of Wednesday defending a different critique of Obama's foreign policy. Late Tuesday, he said Obama's first reaction was to "sympathize with those who waged the attacks" against the American outposts in Egypt and Libya. 

The U.S. Embassy in Cairo had released the statement Romney criticized before the full extent of the attacks was known and both the White House and the State Department emphasized it was not approved by them before it was released. The Embassy also tweeted out the statement and retweeted it after the attacks began but some of those tweets were taken down, according to Foreign Policy magazine.

Romney stuck by his remarks through Wednesday despite criticism from both sides of the aisle and after news spread that the assault in Libya led to the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador.

Democrats jumped on the remarks to argue Romney was unprepared to be commander in chief, and some Republicans groused that the statement was released hastily.

But there was a notable change in tone Thursday as Romney also accused Obama of failing to stand up to China.

"The president has had the chance year after year to label China a currency manipulator, but he hasn't done so and I will label China the currency manipulator they are," he said to strong applause. "They steal our technology, they hack into our computers ... this is wrong, we're going to crack down on China when they manipulate their currency, when they steal our goods and when they don't protect intellectual property. We're going to make sure China understands we mean business."

That attack mirrors a new Romney ad that says Obama allowed China to surpass the United States in manufacturing jobs during his presidency.

A Romney campaign staffer told The Hill that it expected between 5,000 and 10,000 people at the rally in the pivotal region. Afterwards another staffer said only 2,700 people had shown up after 5,000 tickets had been distributed. That's a big drop from a rally Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainWhoopi Goldberg wears 'my vice president' shirt day after inauguration Budowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Schumer becomes new Senate majority leader MORE (R-Ariz.) and Sarah Palin held in the same park four years ago this week, which drew approximately 20,000 people.

That's not a good sign for voter enthusiasm in region that Romney admitted "could very well determine who the next president is."

Polls show Romney and Obama neck and neck in the swing state. The region has a heavy population of government and defense industry workers, making it especially vulnerable to the defense cuts included in the sequestration.

— This story was updated at 3:37 p.m.