Sen. John McCain promised Wednesday that he will do “whatever’s necessary to block” U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice from becoming secretary of State, should President Barack Obama nominate her to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton, prompting Obama to issue a spirited defense of Rice.
McCain, R-Ariz., and his Republican colleagues Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire lambasted Rice as untrustworthy for her statements on national television, five days after the fatal attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, that it appeared to be the result of a spontaneous uprising prompted by an anti-Muslim video. The group had called a news conference to call for the creation of a special, bicameral commission to investigate the September attack.
Obama said Wednesday that he has yet to decide on who might succeed Clinton, who has long made clear she plans to step down after the president completes his first term.
But he said it was “outrageous” for Republicans to go after Rice.
“When they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me,” Obama said at a news conference. “If I think she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity of the State Department, then I will nominate her. That’s not a determination I’ve made yet.”
Rice’s comments were based on the latest intelligence reports provided to members of the administration and Congress, but the three Republican lawmakers maintained that they conflicted with reality.
“How could she say, five days later, definitively, that there’s no evidence of a coordinated attack when there’s a ream of evidence?” Graham asked. Her assessment, he said, was “so disconnected from reality, I don’t trust her. And the reason I don’t trust her is I think she knew better and if she didn’t know better she shouldn’t be the voice of America.”
Obama defended Rice, saying that she was asked by the White House to make the television appearance and was relying on the intelligence assessments that were provided to her.
Rice has often been cited in recent days as a favorite for the top State Department post. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations panel, is another possible candidate.
Republicans, however, appear determined to hold Rice accountable for the administration’s decisions leading up to the attack by Islamic militants, which left Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead, as well as officials’ disjointed communication with Congress in the wake of the violence.
“We will do whatever’s necessary to block the nomination as far as Susan Rice is concerned,” McCain said.
The opposition to Rice goes beyond the Benghazi incident, which has served to reaffirm some Republican lawmakers’ belief that she is too political and too much of an Obama acolyte to be named America’s top diplomat.
“You don’t end up on every single major Sunday show without affirmatively putting yourself out there, wanting to carry forward a message on behalf of the administration,” Ayotte noted Wednesday. “And I think there is a certain responsibility with the current positions she has to ask proper questions about what we did and didn’t know at that point.”