Senator Kelly Ayotte appears to have taken the lead on Republican efforts to stop President Obama from nominating Susan Rice to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Her colleagues Lindsey Graham and John McCain came out of the same meeting with Rice as Ayotte even more critical than before, but Ayotte went the farthest later in the evening. On CNN, she tells Wolf Blitzer that Rice “misled the American public,” and pledged to put a hold on Rice’s nomination if it came to the Senate, at least until all of the questions surrounding Benghazi have been answered:
The accusation of being misleading isn’t limited to Benghazi, either. On the same shows, Rice told viewers that al-Qaeda had been “decimated,” an absurd claim in the aftermath of that successful terrorist attack as well as their success in exploiting the vacuum of power in Libya — a vacuum left in large part to the actions of the US in decapitating the Qaddafi regime with no forces to control the outcome on the ground.
Ayotte demurs when asked by Blitzer whether this deception was deliberate. “I don’t know that I am in a position to question her motives,” Ayotte answers, “but it’s deeply troubling[.]” Rice by her own admission had seen other intelligence that pointed to the eventual truth of the matter, but chose not to offer that as a possibility on those news broadcasts. In fact, Rice at least once on September 16th explicitly stated that there was “no evidence” that the sacking of the Benghazi consulate was a deliberate terrorist act. That was definitely misleading, and certainly seems like a deliberate choice, too.
What happens with a hold? The Senate can override a hold with a cloture vote, but that takes 60 votes to pass. Democrats only have 55 votes in the next Senate. It’s possible that Harry Reid’s attempts to curtail the filibuster might end up addressing holds as well, with Ayotte’s threat on the table, but that might lose him some support for his other “reforms” of the filibuster. Senate Democrats face a tough 2014 cycle without having a presidential race to drive turnout, and any “reforms” might end up backfiring in a very short period of time.
That assumes that Obama still intends to nominate Rice for anything at all. She can stay in her current position without any Senate approval, but clearly a nomination to run State will grind the Senate to a halt, for no particular benefit to Obama now that he’s won his last election. He’d be better off putting John Kerry in Hillary’s place at this point, especially since his Senate position practically guarantees him a free ride and he had no role in pushing the White House line on Benghazi.