Sen. Corker pledges an open mind on Rice as secretary of State

Sen. Bob CorkerBob CorkerSenate passes dozens of bills on way out of town Ukrainians made their choice for freedom, but now need US help Week ahead in defense: Anticipation builds for State pick; Pentagon chief's last trip abroad MORE (Tenn.), the presumptive incoming ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declined to explicitly criticize Susan Rice after meeting Wednesday morning with the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. 

Corker, whose panel would have primary jurisdiction if President Obama tapped Rice to become the next secretary of State, pledged he would not prejudge her possible nomination.

A day after Corker said Rice would make a better chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee than secretary of State, he explained that he did not intend to steer Obama away from picking Rice.

Corker said he would fairly consider Rice's nomination, if Obama chooses her to lead the State Department. 

“I know that at some point I may play a semi-important role in who the next secretary of State may be,” he told reporters.

“Whoever the president nominates, I certainly plan to sit down and give a full hearing to, as I’ve said from Day One, regardless of who that nominee is,” he said. Corker promised to “weigh in heavily” when the nomination is made.

However, he suggested the president try to step back from the intensifying debate over Rice and contemplate who would be the best person to succeed Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonSpokesman: NY Times ignored Reid's comments in pre-election story on Russia Clinton staffers react to 'soul crushing' report on Russian influence Trump: Black voters staying home ‘almost as good’ as those who voted for him MORE.

“I’m asking the president to step back away from all that’s happened and take a deep breath and to nominate the person that he really believes is the very best person to be secretary of State for our country, regardless of relationship,” he said.

He said the Senate holds the secretary of State to a higher standard than other Cabinet members.

Corker said he is unhappy with the FBI’s and CIA’s handling of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and its aftermath.

“I’m very disappointed in the entire apparatus here,” he said.

Earlier, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsDems, greens gear up for fight against Trump EPA pick Medicare looms over Trump-Ryan alliance Senators crafting bill to limit deportations under Trump MORE (Maine) became the latest GOP senator to raise questions about Rice. 

After an almost two-hour meeting with the ambassador, Collins said she's unconvinced by Rice's explanation of her role after the attack.

“I continue to be troubled by the fact that the UN ambassador decided to play what was essentially a political role at the height of a contentious presidential election ... by agreeing to go on the Sunday shows to present the administration's position,” said Collins, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee. 

Collins, a centrist Republican who would be a key vote for Rice if she is nominated, also said she is concerned about Rice's role in denying security requests prior to the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa.

Collins's statement comes after three key Senate Republicans — Sens. John McCainJohn McCainSchumer calls for Senate probe into Russian interference Ukrainians made their choice for freedom, but now need US help White House orders intelligence report of election cyberattacks MORE (Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamSchumer calls for Senate probe into Russian interference Senators move to protect 'Dreamers' The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (N.C.) and Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteDem senator tears up in farewell speech Juan Williams: McConnell won big by blocking Obama Battle brews over Trump’s foreign policy MORE (N.H.) — said Tuesday they were “more troubled” than ever after meeting with Rice.

— Julian Pecquet contributed