More setbacks for Susan Rice

As Obama defends the U.N. ambassador, a moderate GOP senator expresses doubts

Topics: Barack Obama, Libya, John McCain, Benghazi attack, Susan Rice,

President Obama continues to defend U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice from Republican criticism of her immediate public response to the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. “Susan Rice is extraordinary,” Obama told reporters before a Cabinet meeting with Rice and Hillary Clinton. “Couldn’t be prouder of the job that she’s done.” But bad news for Rice: Republican senators aren’t showing any signs that they’re going to back off the attacks.

Rice met with a number of Republican senators this week to try to win them over, ahead of a possible nomination for secretary of state. But so far she has not been successful.

“I continue to be troubled by the fact that the United Nations ambassador decided to play what was essentially a political role at the height of a contentious presidential election campaign,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told reporters on Wednesday. She added that she “would need to have additional information” before voting to confirm Rice.

Collins, a moderate, would be a key Republican vote in the Senate if Obama were to nominate Rice. “Everybody knows [Collins] does her homework very carefully and that she thinks before she speaks, so it’s not a good sign for Susan Rice,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who also met with Rice on Wednesday, was more hesitant about zeroing in on the U.N. ambassador, telling reporters: “The whole issue of Benghazi has been, to me, a tawdry affair.” Corker, who will likely be the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the next session, said that the president should “step back away from all the buzz around” the attacks in picking his next secretary of state.

Rice’s meetings with Corker and Collins came a day after she met with John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte, three Republicans on the Armed Services Committee who have been most critical about Rice’s response to Benghazi. The three said they came away from the meeting with Rice even more “troubled” than before. ”If she were nominated tomorrow, I would hold her because we still have questions that have not been answered,” Ayotte told Politico Wednesday.

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A few Republicans have even floated a John Kerry nomination as an appealing alternative to Rice, with Collins saying Kerry “would be an excellent appointment and will be easily confirmed by his colleagues.” Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso told Politico: “I suggest that the president nominate somebody who is eminently more qualified — that’s John Kerry. I think he would sail through the confirmation process.” Politico speculates that Obama could be reluctant to tap Kerry since it would create an opportunity for Scott Brown to run for Kerry’s seat.

Though Obama and other Democrats have continued to defend Rice, a new report on her stock holdings in TransCanada — the company behind the controversial Keystone XL pipeline — adds to Rice’s troubles. OnEarth, published by the Natural Resources Defense Council, reports that Rice and her husband hold between $300,000 and $600,000 stock in the company, which would need State Department approval to start building.

Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at jrayfield@salon.com.

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