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Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Susan Rice can expect intense Senate grilling at her confirmation hearings if
President Obama nominates her to replace Hillary Clinton at the State Department.
Opposition to the rumored nomination of U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state sparked a short but vigorous defense of her from President Obama at his press conference Wednesday. And that sparked a response from Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of her key detractors, who, together with Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Sen. John McCain are talking filibuster against Rice if she is nominated. They admitted they don't have the votes yet to pull it off.

Asked by ABC reporter Jonathan Karl about the opposition to Rice, Obama replied:

Well, first of all, I’m not going to comment on various nominations that I’ll put forward to fill out my Cabinet for the second term. Those are things that are still being discussed. But let me say specifically about Susan Rice, she has done exemplary work. She has represented the United States and our interests in the United Nations with skill, and professionalism, and toughness, and grace. As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her.

If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham, and others want to go after somebody? They should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But 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. And, you know, we’re after an election now. [...]

But when they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me. And should I choose, if I think that she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity at the State Department, then I will nominate her. That’s not a determination that I’ve made yet.

Graham's response: “Mr. President, don’t think for one minute I don’t hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi."

(Continue reading below the fold.)

The South Carolina senator first made his objections to Rice public on Face the Nation Sunday. Earlier Wednesday, at a press conference where he was joined by McCain and Ayotte, Graham said:

Somebody has got to start paying a price around this place. I don't think she deserves to be promoted. There are a lot of qualified people in this country the president could pick, but I am dead-set on making sure we don't promote anybody that was an essential player in the Benghazi debacle.
Dave Weigel reported in Slate:
[Wednesday] morning, in a Fox News interview, [Sen. John McCain] pledged to filibuster Rice. Hours later he called a press conference with Sen. Lindsey Graham (who has also promised to filibuster) and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (who has become the new Joe Lieberman of the McCain-led three amigos.) McCain pledged to "do whatever to block the nomination that is within our power." On the way out, I heard reporters confidentally talking about how the president had to "pull" Rice—who has not been nominated—because of the opposition.

But to filibuster Rice, Republicans would need 40 votes. Neither McCain or Graham said they had those votes; Graham just speculated that "a few" Democrats might buck the president on his own Secretary of State nomination and join a filibuster. Few other members of the GOP conference have promised this level of opposition.

Rice isn't the only rumored nomination that has garnered some opposition. Sen. John Kerry is said to be a possibility for secretary of defense. Both nominations could generate a battle royale in Senate confirmation hearings.

But only Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said she will be leaving. Kerry, who is said to really really want Clinton's job, apparently was surprised that he might be offered the Pentagon post instead. Scuttlebutt has it that Obama really really wants Rice at State.

Whether President Obama nominates either or both of them, however, it's being made obvious that Rice won't get off with an easy round or two of questions in the Senate.

Kerry also would encounter opposition, but it's likely to be considerably less than what Rice would endure. He would no doubt challenged by senators who still buy the lying smears of the Swiftboaters who went to great lengths to sink his presidential campaign in 2004. And while he has alienated some on the Left with his rightward moves since 1971—when he testified in uniform against the Vietnam War at the Senate's sometimes fiery Fulbright Hearings—he is still anathema to conservatives, including some military veterans. But the Senate has traditionally been extremely reluctant to reject one of its own members for Cabinet posts.

Given that the possibility of a Kerry nomination seems a surprise even to Kerry, all the right-wing heat has been on Rice so far. The objections focus on her statements in the wake of the slayings of four Americans in Benghazi. Republicans sought unsuccessfully to make the attack and the Obama administration's public response to it into a campaign issue that boiled down pretty much to Barack-Obama-is-soft-on-terrorists-and-Rice-told-lies-as-part-of-a-coverup.

The administration and its supporters have said Rice had very little to do with anything related to Benghazi other than publicly saying what U.S. intelligence was reporting in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Rice's foes say they want to know why she said that the attack sprang spontaneously from a protest about a crude anti-Muslim film that had sparked demonstrations in Arab and other Muslim nations. Except she never said that the attack arose spontaneously. Instead, she said the attackers used a protest at the U.S. consulate as cover. As Weigel writes, one of those making the phony claim about what Rice said is none other than ... John McCain.

What kind of secretary of state would Rice make? That depends on the issue.

Stephen Lacey, who writes for the Climate section of Think Progress, took a look at one aspect of her job, wondering if Rice would be a strong advocate in international negotiations on climate change. Climate talks have so far failed to produce an enforceable pact which reduces that carbon emissions that are raising atmospheric and oceanic temperatures, and contributing to a huge increase in extreme weather events:

Rice is known as a tough talker who brings a “pugnacious” style to diplomacy. And her only major speech on climate change as UN Ambassador illustrates how she might bring that upfront style to the issue. In July of last year, Rice chastised China and Russia for blocking the UN security council from adopting language linking the threat of climate change to international security. She called it “pathetic.”
“We have dozens of countries in this body and in this very room whose very existence is threatened. They’ve asked this Council to demonstrate our understanding that their security is profoundly threatened. Instead, because of the refusal of a few to accept our responsibility, this Council is saying, by its silence, in effect, ‘Tough luck.’ This is more than disappointing. It’s pathetic. It’s shortsighted, and frankly it’s a dereliction of duty.“
Although any secretary of state faces a platter full of important diplomatic issues, if she gets the nomination, it's unlikely there will be many, if any, Senate questions directed at Rice on climate change. The most crucial issue of our era, an issue of national security and the future well-being of billions of humans, will, at best, get one percent of the attention that is focused on the Benghazi attack. The Senate is, after all, much like the media on climate change.

•••

This post is a substantially revised and updated version of another which appeared Tuesday

•••

HoundDog has a diary on the subject here.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 12:44 PM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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