U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice faces a steep climb to win Senate confirmation to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of State.
Several Republican senators on Tuesday said they would oppose Rice’s nomination, suggesting her path to 60 votes could be rocky.
“I think it’s a huge, huge issue for her,” Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, told reporters outside his office.
Kyl suggested that Kerry, who is widely believed to want the job, would be a safe choice.
“I’d rather have John Kerry. I think he’s well-positioned. He’s experienced. I think he’d take the job and he’s not tainted with the kind of things that I think would be a problem for Ambassador Rice.”
Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday he would be “adamantly opposed” to Rice’s nomination and would do “everything I can to keep her from getting confirmed.”
Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), the chairman of the conservative Republican Policy Committee and a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, told Fox News on Tuesday that Kerry “would likely be easily confirmed in the Senate.”
“They are also mentioning Susan Rice as somebody for that position; to me she has been disqualified — and actually disqualified herself — by the statements she made five days after the attack.”
A number of other Republicans on the Foreign Affairs panel raised questions about Rice’s statements, without ruling out voting for her.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), next in line to become ranking member, told reporters Rice’s comments on the Benghazi attack were “beyond belief.” Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) told The Hill her remarks “didn’t work out real well.” And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) likewise raised concerns.
“We have a procedure for nominations and we want to give her the full hearing,” Rubio said. “I’m concerned about the fact she went on Sunday shows and said this was the product of a spontaneous uprising, as opposed to a terrorist attack.”
“Obviously there’s concern,” Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) told The Hill. “And so before I jump, I want to do more examination.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), the top Republican on the Senate panel that holds the purse strings for the State Department, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Rice would have “an incredibly difficult time getting through the Senate.”
“I would not vote for her unless there’s a tremendous opening-up of information explaining herself in a way she has not yet done,” Graham told the Sunday show. “I am not entertaining promoting anybody that I think was involved with the Benghazi debacle.”
Even some Democrats are stopping short of embracing Rice’s rumored candidacy.
“I think there are serious questions about some of those statements, and I think we’ve got to see how this process plays out,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) told The Hill. “I think we need to see who else is on that list, be open-minded and see what happens.”
Kerry has declined to comment about the rumors.
White House spokesman Jay Carney defended Rice’s statements on Benghazi during Tuesday’s briefing, without commenting on whether she was in the running for the Cabinet post.
“I can tell you that the president believes that Ambassador Rice has done an excellent job and is grateful for her service,” Carney said. “He believes that everyone here working for him has been transparent … in the way that we’ve tried to answer questions about what happened in Benghazi.”
Ironically, said one Democratic foreign-policy expert close to the administration, Rice might have set herself up for the negative attention after raising her public profile “dramatically” over the past year and becoming the administration’s public face on Benghazi. The source said Republicans have locked onto her comments as a way to draw blood over the Benghazi attack as a “hangover from the presidential campaign.”
The source said the president probably sees Rice, who is close to Obama and had until now worked well with both Democrats and Republicans, as an ideal candidate for a second term, when presidents are usually more active on foreign policy and don’t need a high-profile secretary of State. The source added that the lingering tensions over Benghazi could well delay Hillary Clinton’s replacement.
“My guess is they’ll delay it as long as she can be convinced to stay,” the source said.
Likewise, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told reporters on Tuesday that Leon Panetta might stay on as secretary of Defense until questions raised by CIA Director David Petraeus’s resignation and the probe into Gen. John Allen are resolved. Levin added that Kerry would make a “fantastic” Defense secretary.
The public skepticism about Rice comes as Republicans have been hitting the administration hard on its response to the Benghazi attack during their first week back in session following Obama’s reelection. House and Senate panels are holding at least four closed briefings and an open hearing this week.
Senate hawks Graham, McCain and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) plan to hold a press conference on the Benghazi attack Wednesday morning. And Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) on Tuesday called on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to create a select committee with the chairmen and ranking members of the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, Armed Services, Judiciary and Oversight panels to investigate the terrorist attack in Benghazi and “subsequent revelations.”
“Too many questions remain surrounding the Benghazi attack and response,” Wolf concluded. “The Congress owes it to the families of the victims of this terrorist attack, and the American people, to fully investigate this tragedy.”
— Carlo Muñoz, Alexander Bolton and Jeremy Herb contributed to this report.