Pure theater, but smart politics.

On Tuesday, Sen. John McCain says he’ll sit down face to face in a secure room at the Capital with Susan Rice, the woman he had previously vowed to oppose if she’s nominated as the next secretary of state. In an interview, McCain told The Daily Beast that Rice herself requested the meeting after McCain made several statements suggesting she misled the American people about the Benghazi attacks when she went on several Sunday talk shows on September 16, five days after the assault. On those shows, Rice said U.S. intelligence believed the Benghazi attack was not a planned act of terror, but instead a demonstration that got out of hand.

“If someone wants to come and see me, it would be improper for me to say, ‘No, I won’t meet with you,’” McCain said in an interview. “I will meet with you and hear your version of events why you went out and told the American people false information.’”

If McCain really did mean to block her nomination as Secretary of State rather than simply to hassle Obama, he sure picked a goofy way of doing it. O’s just been reelected, Democrats have picked up seats in the Senate, and here’s his old vanquished 2008 opponent practically daring him to nominate Rice? And Obama’s supposed to back down? C’mon. Even if he were inclined to retreat, at this point he’d get more of a fight from the left if he caved than from the GOP if he followed through. He thinks he can get Rice confirmed and I’m thinking Maverick thinks so too, which is why he toned things down a bit yesterday. (See below.) He doesn’t want to invest more political capital in strident opposition, especially with Rice now making a show of seeming reasonable and conciliatory by reaching out to him, Graham, and Ayotte, so he’s going to hear her out. Should be some meeting: Rice attacked him on foreign policy repeatedly during the ’08 campaign as a surrogate of O, which may or may not be fueling some of McCain’s antagonism now. But if he’s decided, whether independently or because McConnell’s leaning on him, that filibustering Rice’s nomination would backfire on the party, this may be the fig leaf he needs to avoid it. “I’m voting no, but because she was forthright in meeting with me, I won’t block her confirmation,” etc. He’ll enjoy his floor speech before the final vote, at least.

Actually, I’m more interested in seeing what comes of this. Exit quotation from Eli Lake’s piece linked above:

McCain isn’t the only Republican pursuing the Benghazi line. In a letter sent Monday and reviewed by The Daily Beast, Rep. Darryl Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the Oversight Committee’s subcommittee on National Security, asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to explain why it took so long to send U.S. military assistance to Libya after the attacks began.