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McCain: Rice could change my mind on secretary of State vote

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Sunday that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice would have an opportunity to convince him to back her to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of State, days after the Arizona lawmaker pledged to block her possible nomination.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, McCain was asked to respond to a statement Rice made Wednesday, when the diplomat told reporters that while she respected the Arizona senator, "some of the statements he's made about me have been unfounded, but I look forward to having the opportunity at the appropriate time to discuss all of this with him."

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Rice has specifically objected to the notion that she deliberately misled the country in the immediate aftermath of the September terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, saying she simply relied on talking points provided by the intelligence community. McCain said Sunday Rice deserved "the benefit of explaining their position, and the actions they took."

"I'd be glad to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with her," McCain said. "Why did she say that al Qaeda has been decimated? In her statement, here, on this program. Al Qaeda has not been decimated. They are on the rise. They are all over Iraq. Training camps are in Libya. They are all over Syria and are on the rise in the Middle East and there's a lot of questions for Ambassador Rice and I'm sure I'll have the opportunity to discuss these with her."

Host Chris Wallace then circled back, asking McCain if he was saying "she could conceivably get your vote for secretary of State."

"I think she deserves the ability and the opportunity to explain herself and her position," McCain responded. "Just as she said. But, she's not the problem. The problem is the president of the United States."

McCain's more conciliatory tone came days after he said he would definitively block Rice's nomination, a statement that drew fire from many Democrats — including President Obama.

"Susan Rice should have known better, and if she didn't know better, she's not qualified," McCain told Fox News earlier this month. "I will do everything in my power to block her from being the United States secretary of State. She has proven that she either doesn't understand or she is not willing to accept evidence on its face. There is no doubt five days later what this attack was and for."

Asked about McCain's comments at a press conference later in the day, President Obama called the remarks "outrageous."

“If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me,” Obama said. “For them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.”

Other Democrats, including Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) suggested McCain had employed veiled racial "code words" to attack Rice, an African-American woman.

“To call her incompetent, a Ph.D., Rhodes scholar being called incompetent by someone who can’t hold a candle to her intellectually, by someone who said — and Sen. McCain called her incompetent, as well — but he told us that Sarah Palin was a very competent person to be the vice president of the United States,” Clyburn (D-S.C.) said on CNN’s “Starting Point.” “That ought to tell you a little bit about his judgment.”

On Sunday, McCain said such an attack "goes with the territory."

"You can't, you know, dignify comments like that," McCain said. "I notice in this town if they can't win the argument on the merits, then they resort to those kinds of personal attacks."