ANALYSIS- When Republican Senators Kelly Ayotte, Lindsey Graham and John McCain emerged from Tuesday meetings with Susan Rice still unsatisfied with her explanation about her initial, incorrect statements about the Sept. 11 attack of a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, it only furthered the mystery: why are Republicans so focused on preventing Susan Rice from becoming the next Secretary of State?
Rice’s initial statements about the attack that killed four Americans, including the ambassador, were not unusual. Other administration officials, including Press Secretary Jay Carney, were also hesitant at first to call it a terrorist attack. Rice, as United Nations Ambassador, had little role in determining the security of diplomatic outposts, and criticism that the four Americans were not sufficiently protected would be more appropriately directed at President Obama or Hillary Clinton, who formally runs the State Department.
But in Washington, it’s usually at least clear what the underlying motivations for opposition to a person are. In 2005, when Condoleezza Rice was nominated to be Secretary of State, Democrats listed a host of reasons to oppose her, but their clear frustration was in Condi Rice’s role in backing the Iraq War. When George W. Bush tried to appoint one of his longtime aides, Harriet Miers, to the Supreme Court, Republicans claimed she was unqualified but it was also clear they did not know if was sufficiently conservative.
With Susan Rice, the true reasons for the GOP opposition are hard to discern. There are certainly other officials, including the president, who can be more directly blamed for the administration’s initial reaction to the attack in Benghazi. If Republicans are simply mad at Obama over the election and eager for revenge, they could oppose him directly on the so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations. If Republicans are concerned about Obama’s overall foreign policy approach, Rice is an odd target, as she has a limited role in the administration’s decisions as the UN Ambassador.
And there is little evidence that Rice’s own foreign policy views are very unusual in their own right, justifying strong opposition to her as Secretary of State, or that distinct from John Kerry, the other leading candidate to be Secretary of State and to whom the Republicans have raised little objection. Some have suggested racial animus may be at play, but Republicans have not raised concerns about Eric Holder serving in a second term under Obama, as is now expected, even as Holder was perhaps the most vocal member of the administration in speaking on racial issues over the last four years.
It remains unclear if Obama will tap her for the post, and how much of a role this Republican opposition will affect his consideration of her candidacy. But the Tuesday meetings suggest that Republican senators, particularly McCain, will not easily acquiesce to Rice’s ascension.