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Inhofe Reverses Stance on Possible Rice Nomination

One of the Senate’s strongest critics of Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is changing his tune. Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., said Monday night that he would not necessarily oppose Rice if President Barack Obama nominates her as his next secretary of State.

Inhofe’s statement comes amid a perceived softening among Rice’s GOP critics, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who were angered by Rice’s descriptions of a fatal September attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya.

For Inhofe, it marks a reversal from a statement he made two weeks ago claiming she would not be a “fitting replacement” for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In that Nov. 14 statement, Inhofe pointed to Rice’s tenure as ambassador to the United Nations, as well as her statements about the Benghazi attack, as reasons for concern. Her “poor record of leadership, management and judgment lead me to oppose Susan Rice as a possible nominee for the State Department.”

But Inhofe said Monday that when he issued that statement he had assumed that “she had full knowledge of everything that went on” regarding the Benghazi attack — which killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans — and how it played out on the ground. “I’m not at all convinced of that now,” he said Monday on Capitol Hill.

If Rice was simply repeating information she had been given by the administration or intelligence officials, “then she was thrown under the bus, and yeah, I’d feel different about it, if that’s the case,” said Inhofe, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which would consider the next secretary of State. Clinton has said she is planning to step down after Obama’s first term, and Rice has been rumored to be one of the top candidates to succeed her.

McCain also confirmed that he will be meeting with Rice at her request on Tuesday. He said he planned to ask the same questions he has raised numerous times on national television and on Capitol Hill about how she came to repeat now-discredited intelligence about the attack on national television five days after it took place.

But he did not reiterate previous threats to block her nomination. Other GOP senators are also expected to meet with Rice this week.

Inhofe said Monday that Rice had not reached out to him to schedule a similar meeting, although he added he would be open to it.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who is in line to become the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the next Congress, and other Republicans are also expected to meet with Rice this week. Corker confirmed Monday that Rice’s office has called to schedule an appointment with him but scheduling has yet to be finalized.

Inhofe said Monday that Rice had not reached out to him to schedule a similar meeting, although he added he would be open to it.

Corker suggested Monday that he is keeping an open mind when it comes to Rice, though he added, “I have serious questions about how anybody who was anywhere near the loop could say the things that were said.”

“But again, with every one of these nominees, with all of them, whether it’s Banking or Foreign Relations, especially if it’s controversial, I always sit down and talk with them and certainly have not made any decision about what I would do if she was nominated,” he said.

Rice is one of Obama’s earliest and most loyal foreign policy advisers. Her appearance on several Sunday morning news programs in the days after the Benghazi attack, however, have drawn intense Republican scrutiny for months, with critics saying it appears she was covering up for the Obama administration by saying that the attack appeared to have been a spontaneous response to an anti-Muslim video.

Intelligence officials now say that the assault was a coordinated effort by a fundamentalist Islamic militia, but they also have maintained that Rice was only repeating the unclassified talking points they provided officials at the time.

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