Rice would be risky pick

Seven years later, just a mention of Harriet Miers, by all accounts one of the nicest people on the planet, still makes the Bushies cringe. President George W. Bush’s nomination of Miers to the Supreme Court early in his second term was an abysmal failure, killed off by conservatives and lamented ever since.

President Obama, fresh off of an electoral landslide that not only yielded a close popular vote but also revealed anew how deeply divided the country remains, is sauntering out on the high wire by choosing a fight on a controversial nomination now, when the country faces an emergency in the fiscal cliff. In another place and time, nominating U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for secretary of State might be just fine, but solving a genuine crisis — with the cooperation of Republicans — must be Obama’s highest priority.

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For Republicans, Rice sealed her fate the morning of Sunday, Sept. 16, when she went on multiple talk shows to declare that the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including our ambassador to Libya, was not premeditated but a spontaneous reaction to a “hateful and offensive” anti-Islam video. Though she repeatedly said several investigations were under way that would ultimately determine the complete story, Rice’s version (which was based on CIA talking points prepared the previous day) was soon contradicted by several sources, including the Libyan president, who said it was clearly a terrorist attack carried out by al Qaeda elements who had been in the country for months.

Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) called for Rice’s resignation in late September. “She is America’s foreign-policy spokesman to the world,” King said. “The fact is, she gave out information which was either intentionally or unintentionally misleading and wrong, and there should be consequences for that. And I don’t see how she didn’t know how … that information was wrong.”

As the news surfaced that the newly reelected Obama would nominate Rice to replace outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Republicans began gearing up to fight it. “I’m adamantly opposed and will do everything I can to keep her from getting confirmed,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), vice chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Newsmax on Tuesday. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday that he would not “promote somebody I think misled the country or is incompetent,” and indicated he would oppose her nomination despite voting for both of Obama’s Supreme Court nominees on the basis that the president has leeway to make his own appointments as long as they are credible and up to the job.

Enter Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who has defended Rice, and whom everyone in Washington knows has had his eye on Clinton’s job all along. Republicans readily admit they would love Kerry at State, though when the administration leaked word Obama might nominate Kerry as secretary of Defense, Republicans recalled pictures of Kerry with Jane Fonda in his anti-war activism days and stories of Kerry throwing out the medals he earned in the Vietnam War. “Just not sec-def” material, they say. 

Rice, an architect of the successful military invention in Libya in 2011, might well be qualified for the job of running the State Department. She has an impressive record and has just served as U.N. ambassador for four years. But numerous hearings and investigations into the Benghazi attack — and whether the sex scandal involving CIA Director David Petraeus is connected to it — will consume the Congress for months, and Obama is throwing grease on a fire by submitting a nomination that he could ultimately be forced to withdraw.


Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.