“I continue to be troubled by the fact that the U.N. ambassador decided to play what was essentially a political role at the height of a contentious presidential election campaign by agreeing to go on the Sunday shows to present the administration’s position” on Benghazi, she told reporters following her meeting, echoing the key issue Republicans have raised in their critique of Rice.
Specifically, critics have zeroed in on Rice’s statements on several Sunday morning news programs five days after the attack in which she claimed that the assault 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. President Barack Obama has fiercely defended Rice, a longtime foreign policy adviser, saying at a cabinet meeting Wednesday, “Susan Rice is extraordinary.”
“I couldn’t be prouder of the job that she’s done,” the president added.
Corker, who is poised to be the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next Congress, also complained Wednesday about the amount of political spin in the Obama administration’s communications with Congress on the Benghazi attack.
“I would just ask the president to step back for a moment and realize that all of here hold the secretary of State to a very different standard than most cabinet members,” he told reporters after his meeting with Rice. “We want someone of independence, someone — we understand that they’re going to support the administration and their efforts — but someone who’s transparent and direct.”
And while Corker stressed he was not speaking about Rice in particular and has yet to pass judgment on her potential nomination, he has left little doubt in recent days that he does not think she fits any of those categories.
Other Republicans the White House could court to get to 60 votes voiced their neutrality Wednesday, but the factors they said would be key to their decisions on a Rice nomination could prove problematic for her.
Veteran Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said that while he would evaluate Rice’s nomination carefully, should the president tap her, he would be influenced by those lawmakers who have been sounding alarms about Benghazi. “I have great respect for Sens. Collins, Ayotte and Graham and McCain, and if they have a strong opinion, which they appear to have here, that’s going to make a difference in my thinking,” Alexander said.
And Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., a one-time ambassador to Germany, said the administration first needs to clear up all the outstanding questions he and other lawmakers have “relative to everything that happened in Benghazi, how it was portrayed by the administration and so forth,” before he could consider a potential Rice nomination.