The Bush administration had hoped that Condoleezza Rice's nomination as secretary of state would cruise through the Senate so quickly that all of the debate and voting over her could be squeezed into an hour or so amid the pomp and parade of Inauguration Day.
It's not working out that way.
The Senate has just begun what is expected to be nine hours of floor debate over Rice's nomination, and Democrats are using it to do exactly what the Republicans had hoped to avoid: shine a light on the administration's failed Iraq policy and, in particular, Rice's role in using false facts to sell the war to the American people.
Rice was able to dodge questions about her Iraq performance during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, rebuffing efforts by Sen. Barbara Boxer by saying that she would not have her credibility "impugned." Democrats are firing back today, making it clear that Rice's credibility is, in fact, the issue.
"I don't like impugning anyone's integrity," Sen. Mark Dayton said this morning, "but I really don't like being lied to." Dayton said Rice misled him, misled other members of Congress and misled the public both before and after the war began. Among the evidence Dayon cited: Rice's claim in September 2002 that Saddam Hussein was trying to purchase aluminum tubes that were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs." Rice coupled her pronouncement on the tubes with the warning that "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." But as the New York Times later reported, Rice was aware at the time she gave her warning that the government's top nuclear experts had concluded that the tubes were most likely not for weapons use at all.
Dayton said he would vote against Rice's confirmation to send a signal that administration officials cannot "get away with lying -- lying to Congress, lying to committees, lying to the American people. It's wrong, it's immoral, it's un-American, and it has to stop."
So far today, Democrats Ted Kennedy, Carl Levin and Evan Bayh have joined Dayton in announcing that they'll vote against Rice's confirmation; Boxer and John Kerry announced their opposition last week. On the Senate floor today, Kennedy called Rice a "principal architect" of a "catastrophic failure and a continuing quagmire" in Iraq; Levin said that Rice has "attempted to revise history about why we went into Iraq"; and Bayh said that because accountability is important, "I cannot in my heart or in my mind" justify a vote for Rice's confirmation.
Rice will still be confirmed. Republicans have the numbers, and some Democrats, like Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, will cross over to join them. While many Republicans have questions about the administration's Iraq policy, they insist, as Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison just did, that "potential mistakes that people think might have been made" should not be "brought up as a reason not to vote for Condoleezza Rice."