GOP senators run from McCain’s anti-Rice campaign

Updated
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., talks on a phone as he returns for a closed-door oversight hearing of the committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov....
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., talks on a phone as he returns for a closed-door oversight hearing of the committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov....
Alex Brandon/AP Photo

Sen. John McCain’s been talking a good game lately about stopping Susan Rice from becoming Secretary of State. But his Republican colleagues in the Senate aren’t exactly rushing to sign on to the effort.

msnbc.com asked 42 GOP senators whether they’d join McCain in opposing Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., should she be nominated. Just three said unequivocally that they would, and only one backbencher said he’d definitely support a filibuster against her.

White House aides have said Rice is President Obama’s top choice to take over as Secretary of State.  Since Democrats  and Democratic-leaning independents will control the Senate with 55 votes, only a filibuster supported by an all-but-united GOP caucus could likely stop her. McCain has said he’d do “everything in my power”—including mounting a filibuster—to block Rice, citing her role in putting out what Republicans see as misleading information about the Benghazi terror attacks in September.

GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell is refusing to be drawn. Asked whether McConnell would support a filibuster against Rice and urge GOP senators to do the same, Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, responded: “We haven’t put out anything on that yet.”

In response to msnbc.com’s inquiries, some GOP senators took the chance to distance themselves from McCain’s anti-Rice effort, or, like McConnell, played coy.

Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming “will evaluate Susan Rice’s nomination if and when she is nominated to be Sec. of State,” Daniel Head, a spokesman for Enzi, told msnbc.com via email. “He will not commit to anything beyond that as she has not been formally nominated to fill any position.”

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee has “questions” about Rice’s role in the Benghazi episode, an aide said in a statement, but “believes the Foreign Relations Committee is the appropriate venue to judge fully the nominee’s fitness and qualifications for the job of secretary of state.”

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah “hasn’t made a decision yet,” Brian Phillips, a Lee spokesman told us.

Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia is “more concerned with getting all of the facts straight right now,” Isakson spokeswoman Lauren Culbertson said.

Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho “has not decided on this,” spokeswoman Lindsay Nothern said.

Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi “hasn’t said anything about this or any other potential cabinet-level nominees,” Cochran spokesman Chris Gallegos responded.

And Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa told msnbc.com in a statement that Rice “needs to account for” her statements on Benghazi, suggesting he’s made no decision on the issue.

They join a bevy of other Republican senators in declining to get on board with McCain’s bid to block Rice. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said last week he won’t “pre-judge” Rice, a stance that Rubio spokesman Alex Conant confirmed to msnbc.com. Sen. Rand Paul also said last week he won’t “pre-judge” the issue. Even Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who has joined McCain in raising concerns about Rice, said Thursday that the ambassador would have to answer questions on Benghazi, suggesting Ayotte won’t automatically block the nomination.

Tuesday on Morning Joe, msnbc’s Joe Scarborough, a former GOP congressman, pointed to one reason why Republicans may be hesitant to sign on to McCain’s campaign. Scarborough said a filibuster of Rice, who is African-American, would be “terrible” for the Republican Party’s brand, coming so soon after an election in which the GOP struggled to win support from non-white voters.

The only three GOP senators to confirm unequivocally to msnbc.com that they’ll  join McCain in opposing Rice were John Cornyn of Texas—the new number 2 in the Republican caucus—John Barrasso of Wyoming, and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who in a statement slammed Rice’s “poor record of leadership, management and judgment.” Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho said via spokesman Brad Hoaglun that he’d oppose Rice “under the present circumstances,” though he told The Hill last week he wants to “do more examination.”

Barrasso said he’d support a filibuster against Rice, and Risch said he “probably” would. Asked directly about a filibuster, a spokesman for Cornyn declined to say, and one for Inhofe did not respond.

McCain can also count on support from Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has said Rice doesn’t “deserve” the Secretary of State job thanks to her comments on Benghazi. And Monday, 97 House Republicans sent a letter to President Obama opposing Rice for the post—though the House has no role in the confirmation process.

The widespread reluctance to sign on to McCain’s campaign may be in part a product of the 2008 GOP presidential nominee’s reputation as something less than a team player in the Senate. “He has never been a party leader, like his old friend Bob Dole, of Kansas, or a wise elder, like his colleague Dick Lugar, of Indiana, or a Republican moderate, like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, of Maine,” Todd Purdum of Vanity Fair wrote in a November 2010 profile of the Arizona senator. “He flies solo, first, last, and always, and his paramount cause has always been his own.”

GOP senators run from McCain's anti-Rice campaign

Updated