President Barack Obama is yet to nominate someone for the cabinet position Hillary Clinton is expected to vacate in January. However, the ambassador is believed to be among the top candidates the president will likely tap for the position.
But after talking for more than an hour with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Rice – at least at this time – failed to secure some of the support she would need if nominated. Votes from moderate Republicans like this would come in handy.
“I still have many questions that remain unanswered,” Collins told reporters after the meeting.
Those questions are not solely about the ambassador’s wrongly telling the nation that a spontaneous protest resulted in the death of four Americans in the consulate assault in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 when in fact, it was a terrorist attack by al-Qaeda.
Collins, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, is concerned about Rice’s role at the State Department 14 years ago during the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa.
The Maine Republican has questions about what Rice knew about any requests for a boost in embassy security before the Nairobi truck bombing during her time as assistant secretary of state for African Affairs under former President Bill Clinton.
For the past two days, Rice has been visiting key lawmakers on Capitol Hill in an effort to defuse the explosive criticisms from top Republican Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte. The GOP trio is questioning Rice’s competence to run the State Department, given her wrong call on Benghazi.
Rice said she is not responsible for relaying false information to the public as she was relying “solely and squarely” on preliminary information the intelligence community provided her. The CIA knew al-Qaeda and its affiliates were responsible for the consulate attack and referenced it in talking points provided to leaders. However, those references were deleted as the talking points underwent interagency reviews; the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has also admitted to striking al-Qaeda’s name from the final draft.
Though Obama has argued Rice is not at fault in this controversy for that very reason, lawmakers also are concerned about the ambassador’s ability to work independently and ask questions about what she is told.
That’s precisely why Rice hasn’t charmed Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who sees Rice – a close friend of the president – as partisan.
Corker is set to be the ranking GOP member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when the new congressional term rolls around.
“I think most of us hold the secretary of state and secretary of treasury to a whole different level,” Corker said. "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.”