Durbin: Rice could win Senate confirmation for secretary of State

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Sunday predicted that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice could win confirmation if nominated to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“I do believe so,” said Durbin on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” when asked if senators would back Rice for the nation’s top diplomatic post.

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“At the end, some of the criticisms against her have been unwarranted. Many have gone just too far. There's really a basic feeling of fairness,” Durbin added. “She's an extraordinary person. She's certainly well-educated and has really served our nation well as ambassador to the United Nations.”

Rice is seen as one of President Obama’s top choices for secretary of State after Hillary Clinton leaves office early in his second term.

But Rice has faced strong opposition from many GOP lawmakers who have criticized her handling of the September attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which claimed four lives. 

Rice initially blamed the protest on a spontaneous demonstration, with the White House later acknowledging that the violence was a planned terrorist attack.

Many Republicans have questioned if the administration played down the terror angle in the run up to the presidential election. Rice has said she did not intend to mislead the public and relied on the information she was provided by the intelligence community.

The president has publicly backed Rice, and the ambassador traveled to Capitol Hill last month to meet with GOP senators and address their concerns. 

Rice’s visits, though, were met with a lukewarm response, with some senators saying her explanation had raised more questions about the administration’s handling of Benghazi. 

Last week, Obama called Rice “highly qualified” but said he had not made a decision on who he wanted to nominate. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is also viewed as a possible selection.

On Sunday, Durbin said he did not know who the president would tap, but expressed confidence that either Kerry or Rice would be a strong pick. 

“There have been two excellent names mentioned, Ambassador Rice and my colleague, Sen. Kerry. Either one of them would have a tough job following the great job of Hillary Clinton. But they could both serve this country in an extraordinary way as secretary of State,” Durbin said.