Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaks to the media at U.N. headquarters in April.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaks to the media at U.N. headquarters in April. Seth Wenig/AP
President Obama hasn't even named his choice to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who plans to step down at the end of this term. But there's been a lot of heated rhetoric this week over one of the front-runners, Susan Rice.
Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, spoke on behalf of the administration on five Sunday talk shows days after the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans. At the time, she suggested the attack began as a spontaneous protest over an anti-Muslim video. U.S. officials now say it was a terrorist attack.
Republicans have criticized Rice's characterization of the attack, and they don't want to see her get a promotion.
Rice may not have the nomination in the bag — but she does have her advocates, including Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents Rice's hometown, Washington, D.C., in Congress.
"We do not intend to stand by while Ambassador Susan Rice, who had nothing to do with the tragic Benghazi attack, is made the scapegoat of the tragedy because she relayed to the public the only official intelligence that was available to the administration at the time," Norton said.
Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images
Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John McCain, R-Ariz., appear during a news conference Wednesday about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Graham argued that Rice misled the public when addressing the attack, in which four Americans were killed.
Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John McCain, R-Ariz., appear during a news conference Wednesday about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Graham argued that Rice misled the public when addressing the attack, in which four Americans were killed. Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images
It was the way she relayed that information that angered Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
"This is about the role she played around four dead Americans when it seems to be that the story coming out of the administration — and she's the point person — is so disconnected to reality," he said. "I don't trust her. And the reason I don't trust her is because I think she knew better, and if she didn't know better, she shouldn't be the voice of America."
Sen. John McCain of Arizona called Rice unqualified to be secretary of state and even suggested that the Stanford graduate is not bright. The newly elected chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, says that smacks of racism and sexism.
"How do you say that a person with Susan Rice's background is not qualified? I wonder what your qualifications are for your job. Where did you finish in your class?" she said. "I know one of them finished in the bottom of their class. Susan Rice was a Rhodes scholar. How do you say a person like Susan Rice is not qualified?"
Fudge then compared Rice to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who had presented to the American public faulty intelligence on Iraq, warning of possible "mushroom clouds."
"I mean, Susan Rice's comments didn't send us to Iraq and Afghanistan. Somebody else's did," she said. "But you're not angry with them."
Another congresswoman at Friday's news conference, Rep. Karen Bass of California, believes the dispute is all about politics.
"Our Republican colleagues are disoriented, frankly, and are in a tailspin since the election," Bass said. "They want to shoot. They don't know who to shoot. They don't know where the target should be, so right now the target is on the back of Susan Rice."
If she is nominated, senators will not only debate Rice's comments on Benghazi. Many have also raised questions about her record at the United Nations. Georgetown University professor Mark Lagon, a former State Department official from the Bush administration, says the record is mixed.
"Yes, we've gotten sanctions on Iran. Yes, we got action in Libya. No, we haven't gotten action on Syria, and Rice herself doesn't seem to want to hold Rwanda to account for things going miserably in the Democratic Republic of Congo."
Obama, who says he hasn't decided on his next secretary of state, has praised Rice, saying she has served with toughness and grace.