WASHINGTON -- Two moderate Republican senators joined in criticism of Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, after private meetings with her, in another setback for her hopes to be nominated as secretary of State.
Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) met with Rice on Wednesday afternoon at her request to discuss their concern that she had misled the public about the nature of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans. The senators and other GOP lawmakers have criticized Rice for originally portraying the attack as an outgrowth of a spontaneous demonstration, rather than a terrorist attack, which officials now believe it was.
Rice is personally close to President Obama and apparently his leading choice to be secretary of State in the coming term. White House officials have strongly defended Rice, but have also been trying to gauge whether a nomination will come at a punitively high cost, even if Rice is confirmed.
The comments of Corker and Collins come after GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire strongly criticized Rice after a private meeting with her Tuesday. The criticism suggests that resistance to a Rice nomination has expanded from what appeared originally to be a small core of GOP members.
Corker, who will be the ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the new congressional term, implied that he considered Rice too much of a partisan and urged Obama to pick a more “independent” person as chief diplomat.
“All of us here hold the secretary of State to a different standard than most Cabinet members,” he said. “We want somebody of independence.”
He implied that Rice, who is close to the president, was, instead, a “loyal soldier.” Corker also seemed to contrast Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, with whom he said he has had a positive and “transparent” relationship “from day one.”
Collins said that after a 75-minute session with Rice she still had many unanswered questions and remains “troubled” that on the Benghazi issue Rice played “a political role at the height of a contentious presidential election campaign.”
She said she also had questions about what role Rice played in the handling of the deadly 1998 terrorist bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, when Rice was assistant secretary of State for Africa. Collins seemed to be urging Obama to instead nominate Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who she said would be an “excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues.”
A number of Republican members have now held out Kerry as a better choice for secretary, though Rice’s views on foreign military interventions is more aggressive than Kerry’s -- and thus closer to the Republican position.