Rice calls for strength abroad at NRCC dinner

Greg Nash

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pushed back against her party's right flank during her keynote speech Wednesday night at the National Republican Congressional Committee's annual dinner, calling for a muscular foreign policy and immigration reform.

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Rice took on the growing number of libertarians in her party, warning that the United States cannot pull back in engaging the world.

"Our values and our interests require defense. As Ronald Reagan famously said, peace really only comes through strength. What are we doing? What are we doing when we're talking about a defense budget that is so small that our military starts to tell us that we may not in fact be able to carry out all of the requirements put upon it?" she said at the closed-press dinner, according to an audio recording of her remarks obtained by The Hill.

Rice, one of the architects of former President George W. Bush's interventionist foreign policy, said the country — and the GOP — couldn't shirk its responsibilities to the world because of war weariness.

"I fully understand the sense of weariness. I fully understand that we must think 'us, again?' I know that we've been through two difficult wars. I know that we have been vigilant against terrorism. I know that it's hard. But leaders can't afford to get tired. Leaders can't afford to be weary," she said.

Rice, who has been advocating for comprehensive immigration reform legislation, also took aim at those who oppose reform on the issue. House Republicans have been slow to act on immigration reform, and she called on members of the lower chamber, many of whom were in the audience, to embrace immigration.

"People have come here from all over the world just to be a part of our great national belief that it doesn't matter where you came from, it matters where you're going. 'We the people' have been able to include them because we are not a nation of blood or of religion or ethnicity, we are a people who are united by our aspiration and that aspirational narrative has been shared by people who have come here for generations just to be a part of it," she said.

"They've come here from poor countries and they've come here from well-to-do countries. But they've come here to refresh us. We are a nation of immigrants and I know it's hard, but this nation of immigrants has got to remain a nation of immigrants, drawing to its shores the best and the brightest, the ambitious, those who belong with us and will make 'we the people' stronger."

Rice has been getting more engaged in politics, after keeping a low profile since her term a secretary of State ended in 2009. 

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