Republican lawmakers itching for a nasty fight scoffed at the answers given by Susan Rice in regards to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte emerged from Tuesday’s closed-door meeting with the United Nations Ambassador confessing even deeper reservations after hearing Rice’s take on the attack.
“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got, and some that we didn’t get,” McCain said to reporters.
Graham echoed his sentiments, saying, “Bottom line: I’m more concerned than I was before.”
The contentious exchange underscored the bitter partisan battle likely ahead if Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton resigns as expected and President Barack Obama nominates Rice to be her successor.
Joined by acting CIA Director Michael J. Morrell, Rice had sought the meeting at the Capitol as a conciliatory gesture following GOP criticism of her role in the attack’s immediate aftermath.
Rice appeared on a round on Sunday talk shows in the days immediately following the attack, incorrectly attributing the attack on the American mission in Benghazi as one following a spontaneous protest rather than being a terrorist attack. Rice has said she based her statement on the intelligence available at the time and that she never intended to mislead the American public.
Her answers to the issue didn’t satisfy the GOP lawmakers, who seem adamant upon milking as much domestic political mileage as possible from the evil terrorists commit abroad against Americans.
Graham and Ayotte said that knowing what they know now, they would place a hold on Rice’s nomination if Obama selected her.
The three Republican Senators will be hard-pressed to get the 40 votes necessary to filibuster any potential nomination of Rice, but it remains a possibility.
“I wouldn’t vote for anybody being nominated out of the Benghazi debacle until I had answers about what happened that I don’t have today,” Graham said.
Their comments were decidedly different from Sen. Joe Lieberman, who said he had a “productive meeting” with Rice earlier in the day, according to Politico.
Republicans have seized on Rice’s erroneous initial account as a politically motivated cover-up by the administration. The White House has defended her by saying she was simply articulating talking points produced by intelligence agencies.
President Obama delivered a passionate defense of Rice at his news conference two weeks ago and scolded the senators for making her a target in their broader attack on the White House.
McCain and Graham appeared to have softened their stance on Rice in comments leading up to their 90-minute, face-to-face encounter, but it was clear that any good will was long gone by Tuesday.
In a statement issued following the meeting, Rice said that she and Morrell discussed the talking points that she used when she appeared on five Sunday morning talk shows on Sept. 16, five days after the attack.
“We explained that the talking points provided by the intelligence community, and the initial assessment upon which they were based, were incorrect in a key respect: there was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi,” Rice said.
“While we certainly wish that we had had perfect information just days after the terrorist attack, as is often the case, the intelligence assessment has evolved,” she added. “We stressed that neither I, nor anyone else in the administration, intended to mislead the American people at any stage in this process, and the administration updated Congress and the American people as our assessments evolved.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Rice wasn’t to blame for the faulty talking points she used.
“There are no unanswered questions about Ambassador Rice’s appearance on Sunday shows and the talking points she used for those appearances that were provided by the intelligence community,” he said. “Those questions have been answered.”