Senate opposition to Rice nomination mounts
Two more GOP senators have come out against the potential nomination of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) pledged Wednesday to block Rice’s nomination, if it materializes, due to her Sept. 16 comments referring to the Sept. 11 attack on the ...
Two more GOP senators have come out against the potential nomination of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) pledged Wednesday to block Rice’s nomination, if it materializes, due to her Sept. 16 comments referring to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi as a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islam video. Rice has said those comments were based on the intelligence community’s assessment at the time, but McCain said that she should not made the comments either way.
"Susan Rice should have known better, and if she didn’t know better, she’s not qualified," McCain told Fox News. "She should have known better. I will do everything in my power to block her from becoming secretary of state. She has proven that she either doesn’t understand or she is unwilling to accept evidence on its face… She went out and told the American people something that was patently false and defied common sense."
McCain is now the third GOP senator to outright oppose the potential Rice nomination. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has repeatedly tied Rice’s Sept. 16 comments to her confirmation prospects.
"Susan Rice would have an incredibly difficult time getting through the Senate. I would not vote for her unless there’s a tremendous opening up of information explaining herself in a way she has not yet done," Graham said Nov. 11.
On Tuesday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee member John Barrasso (R-WY) told The Cable he would also oppose any nomination of Rice to be secretary of state, also because of the Benghazi comments.
"I think she disqualified herself as secretary of state because in that role you have to have somebody with sound judgment and is able to ask tough questions in situations which are stressful. And I think she failed that in light of Benhgazi and the reports she did five days later," Barrasso said.
Barrasso said he would support Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) instead.
"I think Kerry would be much more easily confirmed in the Senate than Susan Rice for secretary of state, which is the job that seems to be open right now," he said, acknowledging that Kerry’s name has also been floated for secretary of defense.
The presumptive new GOP leader on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said Tuesday he was still upset over Rice’s Sept. 16 comments on Benghazi, but he declined to say whether or not he would outright oppose her nomination if she is chosen.
"How could we, knowing that our intelligence officials in Libya in real time while the event was taking place were letting our folks know back here that this was a terrorist attack — it’s beyond me that we would be out publicly talking about the event in that way," Corker said. "It’s beyond belief."
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) has also said that Rice was either incompetent or misleading when she made her Benhgazi comments. McCain, Graham, and Ayotte held a Wednesday press conference in the Capitol to call for an special committee to investigate the Benhgazi attack.
Almost all the SFRC members attended a closed and classified briefing Tuesday afternoon on the Benghazi attack led by Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy and including representatives from the Defense Department, the CIA, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the FBI.
Several GOP senators emerged from the hearing saying it was much more productive than a Sept. 20 briefing led by Clinton that senators derided as "useless" and "worthless."
"I learned something, but I can’t comment on a classified hearing," said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA).
"I think we are finally starting to get to the bottom of this," said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC).
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told reporters after the hearing that there were still a lot of unanswered questions about the attack and that he wanted to hear once more from Clinton, who is traveling in Southeast Asia this week.
"There are continuing questions on a number of angles. Number one, what assessments were made early on about the safety of the operations there. Number two is whether that same analysis is being done now with other diplomatic missions around the world in terms of ensuring the safety of our personnel. And of course the third question is what led them to conclude in the early days and send Ambassador Rice out to say this was the result of a spontaneous protest that was caused by a YouTube video as opposed to an organized and orchestrated terrorist attack. Those are questions that need to be answered," Rubio said.
Rubio said Rice would have to answer questions about her Benghazi comments but he intends to reserve judgment on her possible nomination for now.
"We have a process for nominations and we want to give her a full hearing … obviously she based those comments on directives or information that she had and it’s important to know who that information came from and what that information was. She’d have to answer questions about that, there’s no doubt about it," he said.
One key point is whether the attack could be a reaction to the events in Cairo earlier in the day of Sept. 11 and still be somewhat pre-planned and organized, an argument made by Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) after the hearing.
"We can debate how long they coordinated and how many days they planned it, but I don’t think there’s any reasonable doubt that this was not a protest gone violent, this was an attack," Rubio said.
As for the details of the hearing, Rubio said, "The briefing was closed and classified, so you’ll have to read the New York Times to find that out."
Josh Rogin is a former staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshrogin
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