WASHINGTON — A moderate Republican senator, vital to any White House hopes of getting U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice confirmed as secretary of state, said Wednesday she couldn’t back any nomination until more questions are answered about the deadly Sept. 11 attack in Libya and Rice’s State Department role during the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Kenya.
In a fresh suggestion of eroding GOP support for Rice, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine emerged from a 90-minute, closed-door meeting with the ambassador voicing new criticism of her initial account about Libya. Collins also questioned what Rice, the assistant secretary of state for African Affairs in the Clinton administration, knew about requests for enhanced embassy security before the Nairobi truck bombing.
Pressed on how she would vote if President Barack Obama names Rice to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Collins said, “I would need to have additional information before I could support her nomination."
President Barack Obama came to Rice’s defense during a Cabinet meeting, calling her “extraordinary" and saying he couldn’t be prouder of the job she has done as U.N. ambassador. Cabinet members joined Obama in applauding Rice, who attended the meeting. Obama has not named a replacement for Clinton, who has said she intends to step down soon.
At the State Department, Clinton was asked about her possible replacement.
“Susan Rice has done a great job as our ambassador to the United Nations," Clinton said. “Of course, this decision about my successor is up to the president, but I am very happy he has the opportunity with a second term to make a decision."
The misgivings from Collins, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, came one day after three other GOP senators said they would try to block Rice’s nomination. Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire said they were more troubled than ever by Rice’s answers on Libya even though the ambassador conceded that her much-maligned first explanation was wrong.
In an unusual move, Rice and acting CIA Director Michael Morell have held two days of private meetings with Republican senators in hopes of assuaging their concerns.