In just two quick meetings on Capitol Hill, Susan Rice may have blown up any goodwill she had with the very senators she’ll need for confirmation if she’s ever tapped as the next secretary of state.
Over the past two days, four key Republican senators have emerged from private meetings to blast the United Nations ambassador’s explanation about what happened during and after the deadly attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
It’s not clear what Rice said behind closed doors to anger all these senators, but it’s obvious the meetings went badly and this was hardly a nominee-in-waiting charm offensive.
Even Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, just the type of moderate Republican who might help break a filibuster on a nomination, said there were still too many questions about why Rice incorrectly characterized the Sept. 11 assault in five Sunday talk show interviews as the result of spontaneous protests at the same time the Libyan president was calling it a terrorist attack.
“I don’t understand why she would not at least qualify her response to that question,” Collins told reporters after emerging from a 75-minute, closed-door meeting with Rice.
At this point, a number of GOP Senators are all but promising to block Rice's nomination permanently. But Senator Collins gave away the game today:
Collins and other Republicans have made the case that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, would be more qualified than Rice to be secretary of state.
But Obama may be reluctant to tap the Massachusetts Democrat since it would create a vacancy in the Senate — and an opportunity for defeated GOP Sen. Scott Brown to return to the chamber. Kerry has also been floated as a potential nominee for defense secretary.
“I think John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues,” Collins said.
The game is clear. The 2014 Senate elections are now underway. Republicans feel they'll have a better chance in 2014 of taking the Senate if they can get Scott Brown back into the Senate through a low turnout special election, plus with Kerry out of the Senate picture, that's one less vote for Democratic legislation in the upper chamber.
Kerry's seat was the most likely target of the assault on Rice's character and obvious qualifications, but Collins made it official this afternoon.
We'll see how the President reacts. I'm betting he calls the GOP's bluff, and he should.