Rice answered questions Tuesday from Republican Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte about her much-maligned explanations about the cause of the September attack in Libya.(Photo: Bebeto Matthews, AP)
WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats rallied to U.N. Ambassador Susan
Rice's defense as Republicans said they were even more troubled by her
account of the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya,
and signaled they would try to scuttle her nomination if President
Barack Obama tapped her as the next secretary of state.
personal attacks against Ambassador Rice by certain Republican senators
have been outrageous and utterly unmoored from facts and reality," said
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who called the criticism
unfathomable in light of disclosures from the intelligence community.
congressional Democrats and the Obama administration delivered a
full-throated defense of the possible diplomatic nominee, Rice was
meeting Wednesday with Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Bob
Corker of Tennessee. Corker is next in line for the top GOP spot on the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"We'll see and we're going to
sit down and talk to her," Corker told The Associated Press. "She always
delivers the party line, the company line, whatever the talking points
are. I think most of us hold the secretary of state and secretary of
treasury to a whole different level. We understand that they're going to
support the administration, but we also want to know that they are
independent enough, when administration is off-base, that they are
putting pressure. I think that's what worries me most about Rice."
answered questions Tuesday from Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and
Kelly Ayotte about her much-maligned explanations about the cause of the
September attack in Libya that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and
three other Americans.
At the hour-plus, closed-door session, Rice
conceded that her initial account - that a spontaneous demonstration
over an anti-Muslim video triggered the attack - was wrong, but she
insisted she had not been trying to mislead the American people when she
made her comments five days later.
"The talking points provided
by the intelligence community, and the initial assessment upon which
they were based, were incorrect in a key respect: There was no protest
or demonstration in Benghazi," Rice said in a statement after the
meeting. "While we certainly wish that we had had perfect information
just days after the terrorist attack, as is often the case the
intelligence assessment has evolved."
She was joined in the meeting by Acting CIA Director Michael Morell.
requested the meeting with the three senators - her most outspoken
critics - but she failed to mollify them and they indicated they would
try to block her nomination.
"We are significantly troubled by
many of the answers that we got and some that we didn't get concerning
evidence that was leading up to the attack on the consulate," McCain
told reporters after a session with Rice that he described as candid.
Graham, "Bottom line, I'm more disturbed now than I was before that 16
Sept. explanation." He said in a later interview that Rice went "far
beyond the flawed talking points" and should be held accountable.
more troubled today," said Ayotte, who argued that it was clear in the
days after the attack that it was terrorism and not a spontaneous
Rice's unusual visit to Capitol Hill - typically
only nominees meet privately with lawmakers - reflects the Obama
administration's campaign for the current front-runner to replace
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton against some strenuous GOP
The White House remained defiant in its support for
Rice, arguing that she was relying on an assessment from the
intelligence community and had no responsibility in compiling the
information on the cause of the attack. It dismissed what it
characterized as a fixation on her national television appearances five
days after the raid.
"The focus on, some might say, obsession on
comments made on Sunday shows seems to me, and to many, to be
misplaced," Obama spokesman Jay Carney told reporters at a White House
House Democrats, including female members of the
Congressional Black Caucus, have suggested that the GOP opposition to
Rice is sexist and racist. Senate Democrats, who will increase their
advantage to 55-45 in the next Congress, said Rice could win
confirmation if Republicans recognize the unfairness of penalizing her
for the intelligence community's talking points.
Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters "it is
so unfair to hold her responsible for something that she didn't produce
and which the intelligence community has specifically stood by."
a statement late Tuesday, McCain, Graham and Ayotte said Morell told
them the FBI had removed references to al-Qaida in the talking points to
prevent compromising ongoing investigations. Later in the day, the
three senators said the CIA contacted them to say Morell misspoke and
the CIA had deleted the references.