Rice jabs at Congress in new memoir

Condoleezza Rice displays little love for Congress in a new memoir of her years in the Bush administration, recalling incidents of political grandstanding, personal attacks and temper tantrums. 

The former secretary of State’s 766-page tome, No Higher Honor, hits bookstores Tuesday, and her recollections of meeting Moammar Gadhafi and battling former Vice President Cheney have already made headlines. But Rice also shares her frustrations with Congress over its interference in foreign policy and its failure to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.

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Rice saves her harshest assessment for her fellow Californian, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D), whom she accused of turning any policy difference into “a personal assault.”

After noting her close relationship with the state’s senior senator, Dianne Feinstein (D), Rice writes: “My relationship with the other senator from California, Barbara Boxer, was, to put it mildly, less cordial.”

She writes that Boxer “should have been more careful” in suggesting Rice was dishonest in presenting intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war, and she speculates that the “angry exchanges” the two had during Rice’s frequent testimony to Congress stemmed from Boxer’s concern that Rice would one day try to unseat her in the Senate.

“Barbara Boxer and I had a history,” Rice writes. “She knew that I’d worked for every California Republican who’d tried to defeat her. And perhaps she bristled at speculation that I’d one day take her on for that seat. She needn’t have worried, but it was never just a policy difference for Sen. Boxer; she always managed to descend into a personal assault.”

Boxer was one of the Senate’s sharpest critics of the war in Iraq, and she aggressively questioned several members of the Bush administration’s foreign policy team over the conflict. 

Rice also took Boxer to task for her suggestion, during a 2007 hearing on President Bush’s proposed “surge” strategy, that Rice could not understand the sacrifices of soldiers killed in combat because she had no children herself. “Not only was it a dumb thing to say, it was deeply offensive,” Rice writes.

Boxer explained at the time that she was referring to the fact that neither she nor Rice had relatives in combat and said she did not intend to single out Rice for not having children.

In a response to Rice sent to The Hill, Boxer said: “I wish Condoleezza Rice well, but history will record her role in an unnecessary war that led to thousands of dead and wounded Americans, while taking our eye off those responsible for 9/11.”

Rice offers a much warmer recollection of Boxer’s colleague on the Foreign Relations Committee at the time, a “wiry junior senator” named Barack Obama.

“His questions were sharp but not rude, and he actually seemed interested in my answers,” Rice recalls in the book. “We volleyed back and forth a few times, and I was really impressed. That was my first encounter with then Sen. Barack Obama. He’d vote for my confirmation despite objections from some in his camp, and we would become friendly. We didn’t always agree, but I always knew that our exchanges would be without personal animosity or rancor.”

Vice President Biden draws little mention in the book, but Rice called his 2006 proposal to partition Iraq, made when he was a senator preparing to run for president, “a spectacularly bad idea that gained credence only because nothing seemed worse than the current circumstances.” 

Rice served as national security adviser during Bush’s first term before the president nominated her to serve as secretary of State after his reelection, replacing Colin Powell. Bush had just defeated Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) for the presidency, and Rice writes that during her confirmation hearing, Kerry “launched on a long rhetorical journey through most of the points he’d made during the campaign.”

She noted at one point it was just her, Kerry and one other senator in the room.

“After having testified for nearly nine hours, I was exhausted and ready to go home,” Rice recalls of Kerry’s statement, “but I kept telling myself that this was really about him, not about me.”

Rice writes that she and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, were “old friends,” but she said he lit into her on one occasion about a perceived lack of support from the State Department for the war effort in Iraq.

“John and I are old friends, and it started off with civility. But all of a sudden he was yelling and red in the face,” Rice writes, before quoting McCain: “ ‘We’re about to lose the second war in my lifetime, and State isn’t in the fight!’

“I let him finish the tirade because I knew that he could be emotional,” Rice writes.

Rice bemoans that lack of congressional action on a trio of trade deals that Bush negotiated with Colombia, South Korea and Panama. She writes that while then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) privately told her she was supportive of the agreements, she said she was “hamstrung” by the House Democratic Caucus. And she says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also voiced private support for the accords. Reid voted against all three when they finally came to a vote in the Senate last month.

Rice voices frustration at Congress more broadly in other areas. A delicate diplomatic effort with Turkey was almost “derailed” in 2007 by a move to hold a House vote on a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide, which would have infuriated Turkey. The vote was scrapped at the last minute, but Rice writes that it “was just one example of how the tendency of the Congress to grandstand on hot-button issues can severely interfere with the conduct of foreign policy.”

And Rice writes that the Bush administration’s failure to push comprehensive immigration reform through Congress during its second term remains one of her greatest regrets. “There are many disappointments but maybe none greater than the failure to get immigration reform when we had the chance,” she writes.

Citing the unpopular Iraq war and the fallout from Hurricane Katrina, Rice adds: “By 2007 we were out of steam.”