“I don’t think people around here want in the secretary of state’s office someone who’s a political operative,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Tuesday. “But I’ll give her a fair hearing. It could well be that my perceptions are different than reality.”
Further complicating Rice’s potential path to Foggy Bottom is the fact that Rice and her Canadian-born husband own millions of dollars worth of stock in Canadian energy and pipeline companies that would profit from the construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Rice violated no laws and properly revealed the stock on government financial disclosure forms, according to government watchdog groups. But if she becomes secretary of state, she could face a potential conflict of interest, as one of her first acts may involve the pipeline’s permit.
Despite what seems to be heavy Republican resistance, Obama is staunchly defending Rice, even though he hasn’t officially nominated her. In an interview with Bloomberg TV Tuesday, the president called Rice “highly qualified” and said she’s done “a great job as U.N. ambassador.”
Rice also is fighting on her own behalf. She personally met with McCain, Corker and Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and explained that the information she conveyed in five talk show appearances five days after the Benghazi attack were provided by the intelligence community. She told the lawmakers that the initial assessment on which they were based was incorrect and that there was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi.
A U.S. intelligence official told McClatchy that the talking points were written, upon request, so members of Congress and senior officials could say something preliminary and unclassified about the attacks.
The senators said they came away from the meeting with more questions than answers about Rice and appear more resistant to her than before.
“Frankly, I found her to be very defensive and not very forthcoming,” Collins said on Fox News last week. “I walked out of the meetings with a profound sense of disappointment. I actually presented Susan Rice to the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate when she was first nominated to be U.N. ambassador.”
Even Moscow has weighed in. A Russian Foreign Ministry source told the Kommersant business daily that the country prefers Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., over Rice because she is considered “too ambitious and aggressive.”
Rice’s backers say some of the opposition to her potential nomination seems more personal than professional. They point to her clash with McCain in 2008 and suggest that Graham is using the Benghazi issue to tack more to the right as he faces re-election in South Carolina in 2014. Another factor : Senators could prefer that Kerry, a colleague, get the post.
The battle is personal as well for some Rice supporters. House Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn of South Carolina was good friends with her father, the late Emmett Rice, a Tuskegee airman who was born in Florence, S.C., became an economist and rose to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Her mother is Lois Dickson Rice, a Maine native who’s a former vice president of the College Board and former advisory council chairwoman of the National Science Foundation.