Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton cautioned Republicans not to give President Barack Obama a victory by accepting the possible nomination of current Ambassador Susan Rice as secretary of state.
Bolton told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren on Tuesday that Obama believes he is on a winning streak and expects Republicans to cave on this issue just as much Democrats expect some big gains during the continued fiscal cliff talks. (Watch the video here.)
“Well, I’m always in favor of U.S. ambassadors to the U.N. making something of themselves when they finish their job at the U.N.,” Bolton said. “You know, if the president wants to have a fight that he thinks he can win, he can certainly get a fight with Susan Rice.
“And let’s be crass about this. I think the president thinks he’s on a roll,” he added. “I think he thinks Republicans are going to fold like a cheap suit on taxes and entitlements. And I think, ultimately, he thinks they’ll fold on Susan Rice, too. So my guess is he nominates her, he thinks he’s going to win, and he emerges stronger. So I’ll just say this. If Republicans want to take a position on Susan Rice, they better be prepared to think through the implications and not hand the president a victory that he doesn’t deserve.”
Bolton joins the chorus of several Republican senators who have questioned Rice’s competence to perform as secretary of state – if nominated and confirmed. If Rice is appointed, she would be the nation's fourth woman to hold that office.
Bolton said a “truly competent” person would not read from talking points; instead, that individual would speak of an issue as he or she understands it.
“Nobody who’s truly competent reads talking points for any purpose,” he said. “If you’re good enough to be a senior American official, you ought to be able to use your own words. I’m not saying you make up policy. You obviously follow policy as set by the president. But the notion that you can be a cabinet-level official and be given talking points that you simply parrot without further question is mind-boggling to me.”
At issue here is Rice’s explanation of the Sept. 11 assault in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans. She failed to call the incident what it was – a terror attack – and instead said it was an escalation from a spontaneous protest against an American-made anti-Islam video uploaded to YouTube. That was what a set of talking points from the CIA said.
The CIA got it right when it deduced that al Qaeda operatives were responsible for killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others that day. In preparing talking points for officials, the intelligence agency did reference al Qaeda involvement, but those references were deleted when the talking points went through interagency reviews.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has since claimed responsibility for the cut.
Rice has said she wasn’t at fault for deleting the terrorist reference and that she was simply relating information given to her. She insisted her intentions were not to mislead the American public.
“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 to the media 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.”
President Barack Obama, who has challenged anyone faulting Rice to take up the issue with him instead, backed up Rice’s claim.
Though it is far from certain at the moment that Obama will choose Rice to occupy the secretary of state’s seat when Hillary Clinton leaves in January, several top Republican senators have already begun working to block the nomination.
John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte have launched personal attacks against Rice, who had a meeting with them on Tuesday. However, Rice didn’t get far, as all three said they have more questions after having met with the ambassador.
The senators said they are “more disturbed” and “more troubled” by many of the answers given to them.
Graham told the Associated Press Rice should be held accountable because she went far beyond the “flawed talking points.”
While the Republicans push what many consider a non-issue in Rice’s nomination, Democrats are fighting back. They are wondering why is it that after the intelligence community took responsibility, Republicans are still hung up on Rice.
“The personal attacks against Ambassador Rice by certain Republican senators have been outrageous and utterly unmoored from facts and reality,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement. “I am shocked that senators would continue these attacks even when the evidence – including disclosures from the intelligence community about the information she presented – have made it clear that the allegations against Ambassador Rice are baseless, and that she has done absolutely nothing wrong.”
Reid once more issued a call for Republicans to drop their “partisan politics games” now that the election is over and shift focus to “real challenges facing us as a nation.”
Rice continues to see top Republicans on Wednesday, when she meets with Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Bob Corker of Tennessee. Corker is presumed to be the next Republican leader in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Corker told the AP that they will see for themselves when they sit and talk with Rice.
“She always delivers the party line, the company line, whatever the talking points are,” he said. “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 the administration is off-base, that they are putting pressure. I think that’s what worries me most about Rice.”