If President Obama taps the U.N. ambassador for secretary of state, he's going to have a big fight on his hands
"By most appearances, [last] week started off well for U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice," says Chris Cillizza at The Washington Post. President Obama's reputed top choice to replace outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had meetings planned with her biggest Republican critics in the Senate, and GOP opposition to her promotion seemed to be softening. But those meetings didn't pacify her critics, and by the time the week was over, Republicans were criticizing her on the Sunday talk shows and it was clear Rice would face a grueling confirmation fight in the Senate. Democrats are backing Rice, and if Obama chooses to nominate her, she may still win approval in the Senate. But here are five reasons the president might consider looking elsewhere for his next top diplomat:
1. A Rice fight would cost valuable time and political capital
The GOP's main public beef with Rice is that five days after the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, she went on TV and said the attack grew out of spontaneous demonstrations that were hijacked by "extremists," when in fact there were no protests and the extremists were likely an armed militia with ties to al Qaeda. Republicans say she deliberately misled the public to help Obama's re-election campaign; Rice and Democrats say she was just relaying CIA-approved talking points. But this fight is also personal for some of the senators, especially lead naysayer Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), says Mike Shortridge at The Washington Times. Rice earned McCain's apparently eternal enmity in the 2008 presidential campaign by making "snide comments about him parading about Afghanistan in a flak jacket." Between Benghazi and bruised feelings, the GOP will "make a Rice confirmation battle bloody and protracted."
2. Clinton — like the GOP — reportedly prefers another candidate
There's another reason Senate Republicans want to block Rice — they want Obama to tap his second choice, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), says Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast. Why? Defeated Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) could probably win Kerry's seat, and "one less Democrat in the Senate would make for a nice little cherry on their sundae." But it's not just Republicans who want Kerry, says Michael Sneed at the Chicago Sun-Times. Clinton prefers to be replaced by her former Senate colleague, too, according to a White House source. "Hillary is not close to Rice, who is tough — but is not the friendliest person," the source says.
3. Rice is a big investor in the Keystone XL pipeline
Environmentalists are pretty unhappy about the idea of Rice taking the top job at State, too, say Joshua Hersch and Sam Stein at The Huffington Post. On Wednesday, OnEarth, a publication affiliated with the Natural Resources Defense Council dug through Rice's financial disclosure filings and found that she and her husband own large stakes in several Canadian oil companies, including Transcanada, the firm lobbying for approval for its controversial Keystone XL pipeline. So what? "As secretary of state, Rice would have to oversee the review of that project," making those investments an obvious conflict of interest. Another oil company the wealthy Rices have a stake in had, until recently, done business with Iran — "but Rice is not alone." One of her co-investors is none other than John McCain.
4. Her expertise doesn't match the job
If Republicans would "stop shooting themselves in the foot" and drop their "failed pre-election plan to create a huge scandal out of the tragedy" in Benghazi, Obama might realize that his friend Rice just "isn't the right choice for this critical position," says Trudy Rubin at the Philadelphia Inquirer. In fact, by focusing on their Benghazi silliness, the GOP is "boxing [Obama] in to picking her over the other, better candidate," Sen. Kerry. Rice's work at the U.N. and as an Africa policy expert in Bill Clinton's administration won't help her much dealing with Asia, and she "has established a reputation for brusqueness and bluster that raises real questions about her suitability for the job." Kerry, on the other hand, "knows every global player" and has more of a diplomatic demeanor. As a bonus, his confirmation would be a breeze.
5. Rice's actual record has some big blots
The U.N. ambassador may have "played only a marginal role" in the Benghazi brouhaha, but she bears real responsibility for her work as a diplomat and policymaker in the Clinton White House, says Jason K. Stearns at Foreign Policy. Rice was a big voice shaping U.S. policy toward Central Africa from 1993 to 2001, and she showed some "critical lapses in judgment," especially in giving Rwanda a free pass in its military incursions into Congo. "Rice is bright, ambitious, and extremely hard-working," but before she becomes secretary of state, the Senate should grill her on her actual record.
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