On one level, John McCain’s attack-dog approach to the possible nomination of UN ambassador Susan Rice as Secretary of State falls in line with the ex-maverick’s curmudgeonly stance on everything these days. Ever since losing the 2008 presidential contest (in reality, even somewhat before the actual election itself), McCain has retreated from his previously commendable independent streak and become an archetype of the modern Republican Party: obstinate and incoherent all at once.
Today, after Rice called for an in-person meeting with Republican senators McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte, all three officials emerged from the closed-doors conversation speaking as if with one voice:
“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got, and some that we didn’t get,” Senator John McCain of Arizona said to reporters. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said, “Bottom line: I’m more concerned than I was before” — a sentiment echoed by Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.
Their statements – coming after Ms. Rice’s conciliatory remarks during a meeting designed to mend fences with her three critics and smooth the way for her nomination as secretary of state if President Obama decides on her as the successor to Hillary Rodham Clinton – attested to the bitterness of the feud between the White House and Republicans over Benghazi.
Mr. Graham and Ms. Ayotte said that knowing what they know now, they would place a hold on Ms. Rice’s nomination if Mr. Obama selected her.
“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,” Mr. Graham said.
Of course, Rice has rather consistently stated that she had simply repeated what she’d heard from the intelligence community. There’s very little actual substance for such a major controversy (fanned, in large part, by conservative outlets such as FOX News, as I covered yesterday).
That said, one factor that has been consistently under-covered during this ongoing saga is the choice President Obama must make for Secretary of State. All indications are that Susan Rice and John Kerry are the frontrunners. In that Elizabeth Warren just reclaimed Massachusetts’ second U.S. Senate seat from Republican Scott Brown (who remains popular in the state despite his defeat), moving Kerry to the executive cabinet means that yet another senatorial election would have to take place in the state.
Democrats are nervous (even if they won’t admit it publicly) about their chances. Despite being overwhelmingly liberal, Massachusetts may not have completely forgiven Martha Coakley for her abysmal campaign in the special election against Brown in 2009-2010. And aside from her, the Democratic field is fairly weak in the state. Brown, meanwhile, continues to enjoy relatively broad popularity and would be a natural (and well-known) contender for the seat.
Therefore, it is possible that John McCain (along with Graham, Ayotte, et al) should be given some credit for strategy here. By coming down so hard on Susan Rice, he may be hoping to force Obama’s hand by making Kerry the de facto lone candidate for Secretary of State and, therefore, opening up a potential Senate gain for Republicans in Massachusetts. Thus, instead of simply succumbing to his baser instincts to criticize everything Democrats do, he may only be guilty of succumbing to his party’s electoral ambitions: a distinction hardly worthy of sainthood, to be sure, but certainly well in line with the behavior of virtually everyone else in Congress.