(TheBlaze/AP) — Emerging from a closed-door meeting Tuesday, three Republican senators said they are more troubled than ever with the comments made days after the deadly Sept. 11 attack in Libya by Ambassador Susan Rice, President Obama’s possible choice secretary of state.
Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte met privately with Rice and acting CIA Director Michael Morell for more than an hour on her much-maligned explanations, which primarily consisted of blaming a YouTube video for a “spontaneous” demonstration that spun out of control.
Ayotte said Rice admitted to the lawmakers that her comments in five Sunday talk shows were wrong. However, that failed to mollify the senators, who have talked about blocking her nomination if the president taps her to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got and some that we didn’t get concerning evidence that was leading up to the attack on the consulate, and the tragic death of four brave Americans and whether Ambassador Rice was prepared, or informed sufficiently, to give the American people the correct depiction of the events that took place,” McCain told reporters.
Here is video of McCain’s full remarks:
Said Graham: “Bottom line– I’m more disturbed now than I was before that 16 September explanation.”
The three said they need more information about the Libyan raid before they even consider Rice as a possible replacement for Clinton.
“I’m more troubled today,” said Ayotte, who argued that it was clear in the days after the attack that it was terrorism and not a spontaneous demonstration prompted by an anti-Muslim video.
Despite lingering questions over her public comments after the Benghazi attack, Rice has emerged as the front-runner on a short list of candidates to succeed Clinton, with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., seen as her closest alternative.
The strong statements from the three senators clouded Rice’s prospects only two days after Republican opposition seemed to be softening. Rice also planned meetings on Wednesday with Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who is in line to become the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
Corker said Tuesday that he had concerns with a possible nomination.
“When I hear Susan talk she seems to me like she’d be a great chairman of the Democratic National Committee,” Corker said. “There is nobody who is more staff supportive of what the administration does. That concerns me in a secretary of state.”
Rice’s series of meetings on Capitol Hill will be a critical test both for Republicans, who will decide whether they can support her, and the administration, which must gauge whether Rice has enough support to merit a nomination.
Here is video of Sen. Ayotte’s summary of her meeting with Rice:
A senior Senate aide said the administration was sounding out moderate members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, such as Corker and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. Assessing the prospects for Rice before Obama makes any announcement would avoid the embarrassment of a protracted fight with the Senate early in the president’s second term and the possible failure of the nominee.
On talk shows the weekend following the attack, which took place on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, Rice was given talking points that described the attack as a spontaneous protest of the film, even though the Obama administration had known for days that it was a militant assault.
Republicans called her nomination doomed, leading to President Obama vigorously defending her in his first post-election news conference. Since then, GOP lawmakers have appeared to soften their views. McCain, who said earlier this month that would he do everything in his power to scuttle a Rice nomination, said Sunday that he was willing to hear her out before making a decision.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had issued a statement highly critical of Rice on the day of Obama’s news conference. He indicated Monday that perhaps she didn’t know what had transpired in Benghazi on the day of the attack.
“I assumed she had full knowledge of everything that went on. I’m not at all convinced of that now. She very well could have been thrown under the bus,” Inhofe said in an interview. He added that she hadn’t requested a meeting, but he would be glad to meet with her.
Graham’s comments were similar (skip to around 1:22)
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that the administration appreciated McCain’s latest comments about Rice, but wouldn’t say whether the president saw them as an opening to make the nomination. “Ambassador Rice has done an excellent job at the United Nations and is highly qualified for any number of positions,” Carney remarked.
Several diplomats currently serving with Rice said that what she lacked in Clinton’s star power, she could make up with a blunter approach that demands attention and has marked her tenure thus far at the United Nations.
Rice, who at 48 is relatively young, has been known to covet the job for years, but was passed over for Clinton in 2009. Since arriving in New York, many say she can point to a series of diplomatic achievements– most notably the NATO-led air campaign that toppled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and tougher sanctions against Iran and North Korea.
But Rice has also been criticized – along with other Security Council leaders – for the failure of the U.N.’s most powerful body to take action to end the 19-month civil war in Syria.
Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington and Edith M. Lederer in New York contributed to this report.