U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice's name has floated to the top of the list of candidates to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has said she will step down from the position at the end of her first term. Yet doubts are being raised about whether or not Rice is the appropriate choice to serve as the country's top diplomat.
Most criticism of Rice as a candidate stems from comments she made following the terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that resulted in the death of four Americans in September. Following the attacks, Rice appeared on several Sunday news programs reciting talking points provided to her by intelligence agencies. Now known to be false, Rice said the incident appeared to be a spontaneous protest over an offensive video, and she did not mention any involvement by al Qaeda. It was later revealed that it was in fact a preplanned terrorist attack.
Republicans accuse Rice and the White House of attempting to cover up the terrorist attack, and trying to play it off instead as a protest gone awry. Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, both on the Senate Armed Services Committee, have spoken out against Rice's appointment as secretary of state, saying her handling of the events in Benghazi make her an untrustworthy choice for the position. McCain said last week he would go as far as to filibuster to prevent Rice's confirmation in the Senate, and Graham too criticized the choice.
"I think she was a political choice, telling a political narrative, and either she didn't know the truth about Benghazi—so she shouldn't have been on T.V.—or she was spinning it," Graham said. "I don't think that's a good resume to be secretary of state."
In response to the Republican senators, President Barack Obama offered a vehement defense of Rice in a press conference last week:
If Senator McCain and Senator Graham want to go after someone, they should go after me … I don't think there's any debate in this country that when you have our Americans killed that's a problem ... They won't get any debate from me on that. But when they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she's an easy target, then they've got a problem with me.
Sunday on NBC Graham did say he would not actively Block Rice's confirmation if she were to be nominated.
Rice is known to have a tough and sometimes offensive demeanor, famously showing her middle finger to American diplomat Richard Holbrooke at a meeting while she was an assistant secretary of state during the Clinton administration. Some say her rough personality would not make her the best choice to serve as the United States's foremost representative abroad.
Sen. John Kerry has also been discussed as a top choice for secretary of state, but he is now also being considered for secretary of defense.
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