Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 | 8 p.m.
Sen. Harry Reid weighed in on U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice’s decision to withdraw her name from consideration for secretary of state Thursday with palpable chagrin.
“Ambassador Rice deserved far more respect than she was shown by certain Senate Republicans,” he said in a statement sent to reporters Thursday night. “The politically motivated attacks on her character from some of my Republican colleagues were shameful.”
Reid is referencing a movement, spearheaded by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, among some Republicans to pillory Rice over her role in disseminating the Obama administration’s shifting position on what happened Sept. 11, 2012, in Benghazi, Libya, during an attack that left four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador and a former Navy SEAL from Nevada, dead.
Rice was the Obama representative who went on the airwaves the Sunday after the attack and claimed that it was the tragic result of spontaneous demonstrations by protesters angered by an anti-Muslim video, produced by Christian Egyptians in the U.S., circulating on the Internet. That, the administration later admitted, turned out not to be true.
McCain and others accused Rice of orchestrating or at least participating in a cover-up.
But Rice and CIA officials — including former chief David Petraeus — maintained she was simply working off the talking points she was given.
Nevada Rep. Joe Heck, who sat in on House Intelligence Committee briefings about Benghazi in the immediate aftermath of the attack and again just a few weeks ago, said he didn’t blame Rice for the statements that she made.
“She was given talking points and she delivered them,” he told the Sun at the time. “There’s no blame to be laid for the story changing.”
But in the Senate, it appears, lawmakers weren’t so sure.
Republicans did not all back up McCain, but Republican Senate leadership did appoint him to the Foreign Relations Committee for the next Congress. From that featured position, he would have the ability to, at the very least, stymie and slow her nomination process; and perhaps even persuade enough senators to vote against her to ruin her chances at nomination. The Democrats have a 55-vote majority in the Senate next year, but it takes 60 votes to confirm a presidential nominee — and it is possible for any one senator to block a nomination.
In an op-ed she penned for the Washington Post Thursday explaining her decision, Rice said she did not want to subject the country to that possibility, contending “it would be wrong to allow this debate to continue distracting from urgent national priorities.”
Reid maintained Thursday that Rice “could have been confirmed” by the Senate.
“I believe Ambassador Rice should continue to help steer our nation’s foreign policy, as she has done so successfully, and I look forward to continuing to work with her.”
Rice will stay on as U.N. Ambassador, she said in her op-ed. Her decision has led many to speculate that the Obama administration might now turn to John Kerry, the one-time presidential candidate and longtime Democratic senator from Massachusetts, who has made no secret of his desire to succeed Hillary Clinton in the position.
Should Kerry get the nod, the chances that his colleagues will confirm him without incident are very high. But that would set off a contest for his seat — a seat in Reid’s caucus — for his replacement: Under Massachusetts law, the governor may appoint a temporary replacement, but a special election must be held 145 to 160 days after a seat goes vacant so the people can pick a successor.