The Campaign Spot

Look Who’s Pressing Susan Rice: Susan Collins?

With Senator Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, among others making noises that they might be willing to accept tax increases to avoid the fiscal cliff, many conservatives are fuming that way too many Republicans drift away from their principles over time.

Of course, every once in a while, a moderate Republican surprises you by coming out swinging on a particular issue. Take a look at Senator Susan Collins, Maine Republican, in Maureen Dowd’s column today:

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the soft-spoken ranking member on the homeland security committee, hasn’t been part of this shrill debate. Though they had met only once or twice, Collins agreed to introduce Rice to the Foreign Relations Committee in 2009 when Rice was nominated as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Rice’s grandparents immigrated from Jamaica to Portland, Maine.

“I don’t bear any animus to her at all,” the senator said. “In fact, to the contrary.”

But she said she is “troubled” by Rice’s role. “If I wanted to be secretary of state,” Collins observed, “I would not go on television and perform what was essentially a political role.”

Collins drew up a list of questions to ask Rice at their one-on-one hourlong meeting slated for Wednesday. She wants Rice to explain how she could promote a story “with such certitude” about a spontaneous demonstration over the anti-Muslim video that was so at odds with the classified information to which the ambassador had access. (It was also at odds with common sense, given that there were Al Qaeda sympathizers among the rebel army members that overthrew Muammar el-Qaddafi with help from the U.S. — an intervention advocated by Rice — and Islamic extremist training camps in the Benghazi area.)

. . . Rice also said that “we had a substantial security presence with our personnel” — which was clearly not the case. Collins wants to know Rice’s basis for saying on ABC that the attacks were “a direct result of a heinous and offensive video.” And why did she say “a small number of people” came to the consulate to protest, when that phrase is not in her talking points? Collins is curious why Rice is not angrier, if, as she insists, she was repeating what she was told. “I’d be furious at the White House and F.B.I. and intelligence community for destroying my credibility,” the senator said.

Collins indicates that she’s willing to support Rice if she gets good answers. But the confirmation hearings may turn out to be brutal, with senators asking fair, basic, and extremely important questions, and Rice’s answers will either indicate a suspicion/belief that she was telling the American people false information, or a level of blind credulity that is deeply disturbing in any U.S. official, never mind a secretary of state.

It will be interesting to watch Democrats insisting that Susan Collins is motivated by sexism and racism, and that she only is expressing doubts about Rice’s honesty because she’s just another rabid, right-wing, hardline conservative ideologue . . .

UPDATE: I’ll bet Democrats think Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, who is pledging to put a “hold” on any Rice nomination, is just as driven by sexism . . .


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