By Julian Pecquet - 11/29/12 10:00 AM EST
Susan Rice’s bridge-building visit to Capitol Hill this week left Republicans divided on her possible nomination as secretary of State.
While some Republicans appear outright opposed to Rice replacing Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonDem Senate nominee calls Toomey an 'a--hole' Disabled woman: I feel sorry for Trump Sarah Silverman to Bernie-or-busters: 'You're being ridiculous' MORE, there are enough GOP senators who are open to voting for her. Should President Obama nominate her, Rice would need only a handful of GOP votes to overcome a filibuster if all Democrats back her.
“There are many different players in this and there's much yet to be learned,” said Collins, who introduced Rice at her confirmation hearing three years ago because of her family ties to Maine. “So I think it would be premature for me to reach that judgment now.”
Corker, who is poised to become the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appeared to walk back his Tuesday statement that Rice would make a better chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
“In spite of the comments that I've made,” he said Wednesday, “I've said from day one whoever the nominee ends up being, obviously, I'm going to give that person a full hearing, as I always do."
Appearing on CNN Wednesday, Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonClinton set to break ceiling GOP senators to donors: Stick with us regardless of Trump Can Congress tackle chronic illness in Medicare patients? MORE (R-Ga.) called Rice a “very smart, very intelligent woman” who's been “upfront,” adding that “you don't want to shoot the messenger.”
Republicans say they're troubled by Rice's comments, made on national television on Sept. 16, in which she inaccurately linked the attack five days earlier on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, to a peaceful protest gone awry. Four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, died in the attack.
“I continue to be troubled by the fact that the U.N. ambassador decided to play what was essentially a political role at the height of a contentious presidential election campaign by agreeing to go on the Sunday shows to present the administration's position,” Collins said.
Obama, for his part, stood by his ambassador on Wednesday despite her somewhat rocky reception on Capitol Hill. She is still considered the leading contender to replace Clinton, in part because of her close ties to the president, including serving as his senior foreign policy adviser during the 2008 campaign.
“Susan Rice is extraordinary,” Obama told reporters before Wednesday's Cabinet meeting, prompting the whole room to erupt in applause. “I couldn't be prouder of the job she's done.”
Privately, some Republicans say they'd prefer to avoid a bitter political fight over Rice, an African-American woman who is viewed as qualified and competent. Some Republicans on Capitol Hill have sought to dissuade Obama from nominating her by raising doubts about her ability to garner the necessary 60 votes and suggesting there are less divisive candidates available, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John KerryJohn KerryDefense chief casts doubt on cooperation with Russia in Syria Five decades of Democratic convention memories Three strategies to help Clinton build 'Team of Teams' MORE (D-Mass.).
“My preference is that the president nominate somebody who would be easily confirmable,” said Sen. John BarrassoJohn BarrassoGoonies, Pokemon and ‘transsexual shake’ speak to raucous scene at convention GOP passes rules vote over outcry from Trump opponents Overnight Healthcare: Feds defend ObamaCare's affordability MORE (R-Wyo.), who has vowed to oppose Rice's nomination. “I think that's John Kerry.”
Others have avoided getting boxed in, in case Obama goes ahead and nominates her.
Speaking to reporters after his meeting with Rice, Corker urged the president to “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 the relationship.” He denied that he was signaling to the president to nominate someone else, but said the focus on Rice has prevented lawmakers and the administration from learning the lessons of the deadly attacks.
Rice's potential nomination, Corker told The Hill, “has created a rabbit trail that has kept us from really focusing on the larger issues of how we handle expeditionary efforts like this in places that the host country doesn't control and militias do.”
Opposition to Rice has been led by the trio of Sens. John McCainJohn McCainSyria activists cheer Kaine pick Clinton brings in the heavy hitters Guess which Cuban-American 2016 candidate best set themselves up for 2020? MORE (R-Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamSyria activists cheer Kaine pick Vulnerable GOP senators praise Kaine Meghan McCain: ‘I no longer recognize my party’ MORE (R-S.C.) and Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteClinton brings in the heavy hitters Kasich doesn't regret skipping convention Top GOP senator: Trump will have little effect on Senate races MORE (R-N.H.), with whom Rice met on Tuesday. They have not categorically ruled out voting for her if she's nominated, but said they were “more troubled” after their meeting with her than before.
Regardless, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellProgressive group changes tone on Kaine Trump hits Kaine on TPP: He supports a 'job killer' Clinton maps out first 100 days MORE (R-Ky.) has not made Rice a top priority. That is an early signal that the GOP conference will not go to the mat to thwart a Rice nomination.
The administration has sought to exploit potential fissures among Republicans, notably by having Rice brief Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) even though he is retiring. Lieberman has been a longtime ally of Sens. McCain and Graham on defense issues and works closely with Collins, the ranking member on his Homeland Security Committee.
“I think she’s answered the questions that I have about why she said the things she did,” he said Tuesday.
Centrist Democrats from battleground states are being cautious.
Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinChristian voters left wanting in Trump vs Clinton New Guccifer 2.0 dump highlights ‘wobbly Dems’ on Iran deal Senate Dems introduce Iran sanctions extension MORE (D-W.Va.) told The Hill on Tuesday that he is undecided on Rice but that Kerry would make a “very, very attractive candidate.”
Sen. Jon TesterJon TesterSenate Dems push Obama for more Iran transparency Bayh jumps into Indiana Senate race Six senators call on housing regulator to let Congress finish housing finance reform MORE (D-Mont.) declined to jump to her defense when pressed on Wednesday: “I don't know her; to my knowledge, I can't remember meeting her. I would have to go through the interview process with her. I'd give her a fair shake.”
Other controversial nominations have successfully moved through the Senate. Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderAirbnb race controversy hits Dem convention Airbnb hires Eric Holder to develop anti-discrimination policy New Guccifer 2.0 dump highlights ‘wobbly Dems’ on Iran deal MORE received 75 votes and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner got 60, including yes votes from Corker and Graham.
Clinton was confirmed 94-2, with Sens. David VitterDavid VitterDavid Duke will bank on racial tensions in Louisiana Senate bid Former KKK leader David Duke running for Senate Six senators call on housing regulator to let Congress finish housing finance reform MORE (R-La.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) opposing her.