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Posted at 08:30 AM ET, 11/29/2012

Rice a bust with Republican senators

You do have to wonder whether President Obama is letting the Senate kill the prospects for ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice’s nomination for secretary of State before its made, day by day, meeting by meeting. The Post reports on her latest trip to Capitol Hill to meet with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who is expected to be the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

After a 75-minute meeting with Rice, Collins told reporters: “I still have many questions that remain unanswered.”
Collins said she was “troubled” that Rice, in her role as U.N. envoy, “decided to play what was essentially a political role at the height of a contentious presidential election campaign” by appearing on five political talk shows to present the administration’s position.
Collins also noted that Rice was working at the State Department in 1998 — and was the assistant secretary for African Affairs — when U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed.

Collins is no wide-eyed right-winger and, moreover, is privy to materials reviewed in the Homeland Security Committee’s investigation of the Benghazi, Libya, scandal. Her opposition would likely mean unanimous Republican opposition to the nomination (45 votes, more than enough for a filibuster).

Likewise, Corker, known as a moderate deal-maker on the Hill, practically begged the president not to nominate her: “I am asking the president to step back away from all that’s happened and take a deep breath and to nominate the person that he really believes is the very best person to be secretary of State for our country, regardless of relationship.”

Indeed, it remains a bit of a puzzle why Rice, whose belly-flop on Capitol Hill doesn’t speak well of her diplomatic skills, is still in the hopper for State. There are more qualified candidates with less baggage who would sail through the Senate.

You wonder if the president wants a fight with the Senate and/or is looking for a political flunky at State who would not, for example, raise a fuss about a phony deal with Iran (i.e. one that really doesn’t stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program but prevents Israel from acting in its own defense). I mean even someone like Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has standards and might blanche at spinning former colleagues or ruining his standing in the liberal foreign policy community. Rice, on the other hand, has demonstrated she’ll say anything to anyone to protect the president.

There are a few ways this could go. Obama could insist on nominating her, providing a public forum for Benghazi bashing and risking an embarrassing defeat. At this point it is very likely she could be successfully filibustered.

Alternatively, he could slot Rice over to a job like national security adviser that doesn’t need to be confirmed. (The shelf life of the current incumbent, Thomas Donilon, can’t be too long considering he may in large part be responsible for the failure to anticipate the attacks in Libya and the bungled response.) That would leave Kerry to take State.

Lastly, Obama could get help from Hillary Clinton, who suddenly might get a yen to stay on for several months, dropping the idea of moving Rice anywhere. (Rice likely would be told to take herself out of consideration, for the good of the country, of course.) On this last option one has to be suspicious that the revelation (in a reliable left-wing magazine) regarding Rice’s ties to the builder of the XL Pipeline is a gentle nudge (or an excuse) to get her out of the way. (Recall that The Post’s Charles Krauthammer came up with the excuse — executive privilege! — that disentangled President George W. Bush from his Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers.)

Obama talks a tough game at the onset of negotiations (the debt ceiling, extension of the Bush tax rates), but in the past has repeatedly caved when confronted with the potential for a disaster (in policy or politically). The risk of starting off his second term with a plunge off the fiscal cliff and a rebuff of his nominee for secretary of State may be too much for the president to take. A loss on one would be humiliating; a loss on both would effectively doom his second term.

By  |  08:30 AM ET, 11/29/2012

 
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