WASHINGTON, DC — Senate Republicans roundly criticized the potential nomination of UN Ambassador Susan Rice to become the next Secretary of State Monday, warning her handling of the Benghazi terrorist attack could make confirmation extremely difficult, if not impossible.
The Washington Post reported the Rice trial balloon as part of a possible nomination of Sen. John Kerry as Defense Secretary, a move that would make Rice an "almost certain" pick to head the State Department.
Rice's Sunday show appearances on the attack — in which she initially blamed it on an anti-Muslim YouTube video — have become a lightning rod within the Republican Party's foreign policy hawk wing, with Sen. Lindsey Graham going on record on Sunday saying he would oppose any effort to name her to the top Cabinet post in the upcoming second-term shake-up.
"I cannot imagine promoting anybody associated with Benghazi at this point," the South Carolina senator said on CBS's Face The Nation, stopping short of threatening a hold or filibuster on the potential pick.
A senior Republican leadership aide expressed shock at the possibility that Rice would be nominated for the State Department slot and said it would almost go poorly for the ambassador.
"Lindsey Graham is perhaps the most accommodating Republican in the Senate to presidential nominations and he's 24 hours removed from saying he would oppose her. It's unclear whether her nomination would be blocked entirely but what is clear is that she would not be confirmed until the entire Benghazi situation has been fully litigated, which has been something the administration has meticulously avoided," the leadership aide said. "The public declarations by the administration on her behalf that her public statements were consistent with the intelligence at the time are flatly false and she will be held accountable. If they were looking for a smooth confirmation, she would be a uniquely bad choice."
The idea of Kerry heading up DoD was also questioned by Republicans, who warned the selection of the Vietnam veteran-turned-critic wouldn't be simple either.
"He'll run into a buzz saw of Vietnam vets" if Obama taps Kerry for the Pentagon slot, a GOP aide said.
A Senate GOP foreign policy aide predicted that ultimately both could be confirmed, but not without a protracted and ugly confirmation fight for the White House — a difficult way to start off a second term.
"Whether fair to her or not, Susan Rice has become the posterchild for congressional suspicions of a coverup of the attack on our consulate in Benghazi," the aide said. "If the president sent up a Rice nomination, you'd just have one more committee holding hearings, asking questions and sifting through documents with a media drumbeat on Benghazi — not the start I'd imagine he wants for the second term. If a Kerry nomination comes up, Republicans will probably dredge up every e-mail, document, memo, and diplomatic cable surrounding Kerry's role as unofficial envoy to Bashir Assad, forcing another difficult Obama foreign policy into the forefront — and who knows what embarrassing things we'll find. In the end, while both Rice and Kerry would likely win confirmation in the end, the administration just needs to weigh the costs of weeks of hearings and questions on Benghazi and Syria."
"This seems like a trial balloon to clear the way for Kerry at State," mused another GOP aide.