WASHINGTON – The top Republican leading the fight against Susan Rice as the new secretary of State softened his opposition and said Sunday he was open to hearing her explain why she declared the burning of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was part of a protest rather than a terrorist attack.
“I’d give everyone the benefit of explaining their position and the actions that they took,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on the “Fox News Sunday” show. “I’d be glad to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with her.”
Also Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a vocal critic of how the administration handled fallout from the Benghazi attack, said President Obama more than Rice is responsible for her television comments claiming the Sept. 11 Libyan attack was a spontaneous eruption from protesters angry over an anti-Islam video.
“I blame the president above all others,” Graham said on ABC’s “This Week” program – indicating he is more upset with Obama than Rice.
But if Obama sends Rice’s nomination to the Senate for confirmation as secretary of State, Graham said, “There will be a lot of questions asked of her about this event and others.”
Rice, currently the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been highly praised by Obama for her leadership in his first term, and his White House has signaled that the president is considering her to replace outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Rice appeared on several Sunday talk shows after the consulate attack and said that the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were prompted by the video. Republicans immediately suggested the administration was trying to cover up the incident in the weeks before the presidential election.
Last week, Rice told reporters that she had been relying “solely and squarely” on preliminary information provided by U.S. intelligence officials.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut who caucuses with Democrats, said Rice should be allowed to explain herself further before being summarily rejected by the Senate. “I think we ought to find out before we decide on whether she’s a good or bad public servant,” Lieberman said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate majority whip, criticized Republicans for condemning Rice before first hearing her out. “If this were a football game,” he said, “the critics of Ambassador Rice would be penalized for piling on.”
Graham shot back: “This is about four dead Americans. This is about a national security failure.”
On the House side, Rep. Peter King of New York, the Republican chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, both praised and criticized Rice.
“I think Susan Rice has done an effective job as U.N. ambassador, especially on issues such as North Korea,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” show. “But on this, she is wrong.”
He charged that “she knew that the story she was giving out was not entirely true” and said she should have evaluated the intelligence or asked for a better assessment. As a high government official, he said, “she has an obligation not to just be a puppet and take what’s handed to her.”