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 ClintonClinton on Trump: 'I don’t even think about responding to him anymore' WATCH LIVE: Clinton, Kaine rally supporters in Pennsylvania Trump campaign blasts new allegation as 'false and 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 IsaksonIs Georgia turning blue? GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Dems seek cash to expand Senate map 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 Kerry5 reasons Trump's final debate performance sealed his 2016 coffin US pledges to do all it can to fight 'grave threat' of nuclear North Korea Armani, Batali among guests at White House state dinner MORE (D-Mass.).
“My preference is that the president nominate somebody who would be easily confirmable,” said Sen. John BarrassoJohn BarrassoGOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Black ties and french fries mingle at DC's Meridian Ball GOP seeks to block ObamaCare settlements with insurers 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 McCainIs Georgia turning blue? High anxiety for GOP Trump: 'Very disappointed' GOP senator dropped support MORE (R-Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamHigh anxiety for GOP NYC mayor: Trump sounds like ‘a third-world dictator’ Five takeaways from final debate MORE (R-S.C.) and Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteHigh anxiety for GOP Trump: 'Very disappointed' GOP senator dropped support NH poll: Dem challenger pulls ahead of Ayotte 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 McConnellRubio: GOP Congress could go in different direction than Trump Pelosi blasts GOP leaders for silence on Trump Reid: Groping accusations show Trump’s ‘sickness’ 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 ManchinTrump questions hound endangered Republican Dems to McConnell: Pass 'clean' extension of Iran sanctions Convicted ex-coal boss says he’s a ‘political prisoner’ 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 TesterGOP plan: Link Dems to an email scandal Court ruling could be game changer for Dems in Nevada Election-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables 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. HolderPodesta floated Bill Gates, Bloomberg as possible Clinton VPs Payback: Dems see chance to boot Issa Trump was right — Clinton's email case needs a special prosecutor 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 gets debate slot in La. Senate race GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Trump’s implosion could cost GOP in Louisiana Senate race MORE (R-La.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) opposing her.