WASHINGTON — Top Republican senators pledged Wednesday to block an eventual nomination of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice as the next secretary of state.
“We will do everything in our power to block Rice,” said Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who lost the presidential election to President Barack Obama in 2008.
The senators treated Rice, who originally said a “spontaneous” protest over an anti-Muslim video led to the fatal attack at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, with outright contempt as a possible replacement for Hillary Clinton, who has indicated her departure from the administration is imminent.
New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte criticized Rice’s constant appearances on network television, and South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham questioned why an official in her position would be the administration’s lead public figure on the Benghazi incident.
Graham suggested the White House may have been taking cover by putting Rice front-and-center on cable news talk shows just days after the Benghazi attack.
McCain mentioned other possible State Department candidates, and what they could expect in a Senate confirmation hearing. Of longtime Senate colleague Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts, McCain said he could expect to be treated as “any other nominee.”
The renewed political offensive against Rice came as part of a request for a special congressional committee to investigate the attack in Libya.
“It is essential for Congress to conduct its own investigation” of the events, McCain said, adding that the scope of an investigation could be ample. “We want to probe everybody involved, up to and including the President of the United States.”
Graham said it would be a “big mistake” not to appoint a special committee that could gather all the information in one place. Administration officials involved in the incident would otherwise report to different congressional committees, the South Carolina senator said, scattering information about the attack and the administration’s response.
He compared handling of the Benghazi attack to the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals , saying the investigation of those events, “benefited from Select Joint Committees.”
An investigation of the incident should reveal “the difference between a human failing and a national security breach,” said Graham.
McCain insisted that Benghazi was more appalling than the Nixon- and Reagan-era scandals. “In Watergate, nobody died. In Iran-Contra, nobody died,” he said.
The Iran-Contra affair of 1986 provided the Iranian military with illegally purchased American-made anti-tank missiles. The weapons were involved in the battle of Mehran, in which they were fired at Iraqi forces from helicopter gunships causing an unspecified number of casualties.
The senators underlined the idea that responsibility for the failings in Benghazi fell equally on the military, intelligence services and the State Department.
“We don’t promote anybody that was a central player in the Benghazi debacle,” Graham said.