Paul Jesep

It’s over. UN Ambassador Susan Rice is not likely to become secretary of state. Moderate Republican US Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) is the latest to express reservations about Rice’s explanation of the Benghazi terrorist attack in Libya.

Collins, in making her concerns public, also expressed strong support for her colleague John Kerry (D-Mass.) to replace outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Unfortunately, outgoing US Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN) still has not been mentioned as a possible replacement.

Prior to Collins, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) were spirited in their criticism of Rice. Their reservations could border on partisanship in light of the personal disdain Rice and McCain have for one another. Graham’s judgment could be colored since he is a close friend and longtime supporter of McCain's.

The reservations raised by Collins, however, change everything. She is known for bipartisanship and has the respect of the White House. Although she is faithful to core Republican values of lower taxes and limited government while trying to steer her party away from contentious social issues, she is quick to promote qualified women and cross party lines to find solutions.

Obama is in the midst of tough negotiations to get the federal deficit under control. He must have the support of the Republican controlled US House of Representatives to get something passed. Almost 100 House Republicans have signed and sent a letter to him expressing strong disapproval of Rice. Critics outside of Congress are also lining up in opposition to her nomination.

It will be political hubris, stunning innocence, or an avoidable strategic blunder if Obama nominates Rice to be the next secretary of state. It’s equally surprising the White House is still allowing this issue to dominate headlines. Wall Street and the European stock markets are holding their breaths waiting for Washington to announce a budget deal. Rice’s future is now a growing distraction.

This isn’t to suggest Rice isn’t qualified. Nor does it imply she’s been treated fairly by the media or many Republicans. It is what it is. Rice will not receive US Senate confirmation without a fight. Obama will have to expend time, energy, and limited political capital to get her confirmed. It could still happen, but at what political price?

The country needs a budget deal. As expected, negotiations with US House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) are difficult. US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been especially unresponsive to preliminary suggestions from the White House. If Obama doesn’t put an end to ongoing speculation he’ll nominate Rice to replace Clinton, then needed good will and limited political capital for budget negotiations will be sapped. It’s time to put forth two other names: Kerry and Lugar.

Sources linked to in report.


Paul Jesep is an attorney, policy analyst, and author of Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis: Learn to Live and Work Ethically. As a matter of disclosure, Paul once worked for Collins.