Washington, Nov. 28: Susan E. Rice may have hoped that paying a conciliatory call on three hostile Senate Republicans yesterday would smooth over a festering dispute about the deadly attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, and clear a roadblock to her nomination as secretary of state.
But the senators seemed anything but mollified, signalling instead that they would still oppose Rice, the ambassador to the UN, if she is nominated by President Obama, even after she conceded errors in the account of the assault she gave on Sunday morning television programmes shortly after it occurred in September.
Two of the Republicans, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, said they would seek to block Rice, who according to administration officials remains Obama's preferred choice to succeed secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton. The third Republican, Senator John McCain of Arizona, said on Fox that he would be "very hard-pressed" to support Rice.
"Bottom line, I'm more disturbed than I was before," Graham said after the tense, closed-door meeting.
The continued criticism of Rice, 48, a diplomat with close ties to Obama, deepens an already bitter and unusually personal feud between the White House and Republicans over Libya. Responding to a question about criticism of Rice at a news conference two weeks ago, Obama said: "If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me."
It also raises the prospect of a confirmation battle if the President goes ahead with nominating Rice. To some extent, that battle is already under way, even before he has submitted her name.
Obama will host former political rival Mitt Romney for a private lunch at the White House tomorrow, their first meeting since the November 6 election.