GOP senators more troubled after Rice meeting

By Donna Cassata

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 27 2012 11:38 a.m. MST

A senior Senate aide said the administration was sounding out moderate members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, such as Corker and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. Assessing the prospects for Rice before Obama makes any announcement would avoid the embarrassment of a protracted fight with the Senate early in the president's second term and the possible failure of the nominee.

Rice is scheduled to meet with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., her most vocal critic on Capitol Hill, and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. McCain and Ayotte are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

On talk shows the weekend following the attack, which took place on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, Rice was given talking points that described the attack as a spontaneous protest of the film, even though the Obama administration had known for days that it was a militant assault.

Republicans called her nomination doomed, leading to a vigorous defense of her by Obama in his first postelection news conference. Since then, GOP lawmakers have appeared to soften their views. McCain, who said earlier this month that would he do everything in his power to scuttle a Rice nomination, said Sunday that he was willing to hear Rice out before making a decision.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had issued a statement highly critical of Rice on the day of Obama's news conference. He indicated Monday that perhaps she didn't know what had transpired in Benghazi on the day of the attack.

"I assumed she had full knowledge of everything that went on. I'm not at all convinced of that now. She very well could have been thrown under the bus," Inhofe said in an interview. He said she hadn't requested a meeting but he would be glad to meet with her.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that the administration appreciated McCain's latest comments about Rice, but wouldn't say whether the president saw them as an opening to make the nomination. "Ambassador Rice has done an excellent job at the United Nations and is highly qualified for any number of positions," Carney said.

Several diplomats currently serving with Rice said that what she lacked in Clinton's star power, she could make up with a blunter approach that demands attention and has marked her tenure thus far at the United Nations.

Rice, who at 48 is relatively young, has been known to covet the job for years, but was passed over for Clinton in 2009.

Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington and Edith M. Lederer in New York contributed to this report.

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