Supporters of Susan Rice are accusing Republicans of using racial "code words" in opposing her for Secretary of State. And they're questioning whether some of the criticisms leveled at her would have been used against a man.
In an interview Tuesday morning on CNN, Rep. James Clyburn took issue with terms like "incompetent" as applied to Rice, the current U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.
"You know, these are code words," Clyburn said. "These kinds of terms that those of us—especially those of us who were grown and raised in the South —we've been hearing these little words and phrases all of our lives and we get insulted by them."
Sen. John McCain has led the anti-Rice campaign, citing her role in putting out what Republicans see as misleading information about the Benghazi terror attacks in September. McCain has called Rice "not qualified," and said he'll do "everything in my power" to stop her becoming Secretary of State, should President Obama nominate her.
"Susan Rice is as competent as anybody you will find," Clyburn added. "And just to paste that word on her causes problems with people like [Ohio congresswoman] Marcia Fudge, and certainly causes a big problem with me. I don't like those words. Say she was wrong for doing it, but don't call her incompetent."
Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, the incoming chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, addressed McCain directly at a press conference last Friday .
"Now, I know when you lose, you get angry," Fudge said. "But don't take it out on somebody that didn't have anything to do with your loss. Blame yourself."
Fudge went on to question how McCain and other critics could consider the U.N. Ambassador, a Rhodes Scholar, to be unqualified. "You may not like her, you may not like the administration—but don't say she's not qualified."
"Any time something goes wrong," Fudge added, "Republicans pick on women and minorities."
WATCH FUDGE'S COMMENTS:
Even Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, thinks the racial optics of the anti-rice crusade could be damaging for the GOP. “The president has to love this,” Scarborough said Tuesday on Morning Joe. “The Republicans just got pummeled, people of color ran away from them in record numbers. And so the first big fight post-election, you’re gonna have old white guys taking on a younger person of color?”
And some are charging that gender, too, is playing a role.
"She is not known to suffer fools gladly," Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson said Tuesday, also on Morning Joe. "She's tough, which in another context, you might want in a Secretary of State." He continued: "Why is it that women who are thought of for these offices are 'abrasive,' and rub people the wrong way, and men who are aggressive seem to get jobs like this?"
Robinson may have had in mind a Washington Post column by Dana Milbank, which accused Rice of "pugilism" and criticized her "shoot-first" approach to diplomacy.