BOTTOM LINE, I’m more disturbed now than I was before,” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham on Tuesday on Capitol Hill. We’ll let Graham’s toweringly hilarious double entendre go for now. His comment’s real intent was to express his frustration with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and her responses to a hour’s worth of questions about the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi, questions answered in a closed-door meeting with Graham, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, and Arizona Sen. John McCain, king of the Senate Republican malcontents.
“I want to say that I'm more troubled today knowing, having met with the acting director of the CIA and Ambassador Rice,” Ayotte told reporters on Tuesday. “Because it's certainly clear from the beginning that we knew that those with ties to al-Qaida were involved in the attack on the embassy. And clearly the impression that was given of the information given to the American people was wrong. In fact, Ambassador Rice said today, absolutely, it was wrong. ... I have many more questions that need to be answered.”
But despite the sturdy Republican chorus of opposition to the ambassador as a nominee for secretary of state, and GOP support for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, there are some good reasons why, thinking tactically and strategically, small-ball and big-picture, President Obama will pick Ambassador Rice to succeed Hillary Clinton at State. Or at least he should:
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There’s the opportunity to gain from the Republicans’ punitive optics of the situation. The gathering GOP witch hunt is an attempt to short-circuit the independence of the presidential nomination process, and to scuttle a president’s choice out of not much more than pique.
To the American public that just rendered its judgment on Republican rule on Nov. 6, the Senate Republicans reasons for opposing Rice look small and cheap and mean-spirited.
What we’re likely seeing right now is a preview of the obstructionist tactics Republicans will adopt for other nominations to come — including any and all choices Obama may make for the U.S. Supreme Court. Calling this crap out now for what it is (and will probably be) gains the president the high perceptual ground of being seen as the adult in the room.
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IF OBAMA SO decides, the selection of Susan Rice to be the 68th United States Secretary of State would reflect her impressive intellectual heft. The word often attached to Rice — “brilliant” — is almost an understatement:
Rice, just turned 48, seems to have been hard-wired for achievement from the jump. The daughter of Cornell economics professor Emmett J. Rice, the second black governor of the Federal Reserve System, she graduated from Stanford University (Phi Beta Kappa), and earned a Rhodes scholarship.
A former fellow at the Brookings Institution, Rice was an aide to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during the Clinton administration; she was assistant secretary of state for African affairs and worked for four years on the National Security Council staff. In January 2009, Rice was unanimously confirmed by the Senate to be United States Ambassador to the United Nations, the second youngest in the nation’s history and the first African American woman in the post. Oh yeah, almost forgot — she earned a doctorate at Oxford.
At the age of 26.
Ironically — or maybe not so ironically — Rice is at least as qualified for higher office as her detractors are qualified for the jobs they've got right now, and maybe more.
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A Rice nomination would send a message to the Democratic base. It stems from a perverse irony; from a populist Democratic perspective, the fact that several Senate Republicans prefer Kerry to Rice for secretary of state works to Kerry’s disadvantage.
For President Obama to acquiesce in the preference of Senate Republicans for one of the most important posts in his (or any) administration, he would be nullifying the powerful, galvanizing impact of his own landslide re-election three weeks ago — and the independence such a victory bestows.