McCain and Graham stick their necks out for Victoria Nuland

McCain and Graham stick their necks out for Victoria Nuland

Ahead of what many expect to be a contentious confirmation hearing for the next assistant secretary of state for Europe, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) gave a major boost to Obama appointee Victoria Nuland on Friday.

"Ambassador Victoria Nuland has a long and distinguished record of service to our nation in both Republican and Democrat Administrations," the senators said in a statement. "She is knowledgeable and well-versed on the major foreign policy issues as well as respected by foreign policy experts in both parties. We look forward to her upcoming confirmation hearings in the United States Senate."

The statement lends crucial support to Nuland, who has come under fire from GOP lawmakers for her role in the editing of administration talking points in the immediate aftermath of last year’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

In the last six months, no two lawmakers have thrown more rhetorical grenades at the Obama administration for what they call a concerted "cover-up" of what happened in Benghazi. Some Republicans have included Nuland in that alleged cover up for her recommendations that the group responsible for the attack, Ansar al-Sharia, be removed from the talking points given to members of Congress and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. But Graham and McCain don’t appear to be in the blame-Nuland camp.

As The Cable noted earlier, Nuland was always something of an awkward GOP target given her work as an aide for Vice President Dick Cheney from 2003 to 2005 and her marriage to prominent neoconservative writer Robert Kagan, an advisor to Mitt Romney during his failed presidential bid. 

McCain’s support doesn’t exactly come out nowhere.

Earlier this month, he tweeted out a story by the Washington Post’s neoconservative blogger Jennifer Rubin, who absolved Nuland of wrongdoing in the talking point scandal: "It is not the communications people who bear any responsibility for the scrubbing that went on over the weekend," wrote Rubin.

McCain’s support is particularly important given his placement on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which gets the first crack at State Department appointees. Other Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee remained mum about her nomination, though a committee source speaking to The Cable said there is "very little chance" the nomination won’t trigger some sort of fight. The question now is, will McCain’s and Graham’s support blunt the concerns of the rest of their GOP colleagues?