If senators are going to use a terrorist attack to grandstand in vain over a nomination which hasn't yet been offered, the very least they can do is do it in person. Such was the case today, when Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, met with several of the Republicans in the Senate who have been critical of her recently.
Among those with whom Rice met today were Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte, the same band who called a November 14 presser to criticize Rice's comments on the Benghazi attacks, missing a confidential briefing on those same Benghazi attacks in order to do so. That sideshow, along with McCain later snipping at a reporter who dared ask him about the missed briefing, should have officially ended the "taking them seriously" portion of this episode.
But being that her prospective new job as Secretary of State would involve quite a bit of diplomacy, perhaps Rice wanted to engage her critics in person, and that's why she requested meetings with them today. Perhaps she wanted the satisfaction of making those Republicans speak their criticism to her face, or of seeing them soften their critiques in person.
But could today's meeting actually be helping bring Rice closer to the position McCain, in particular, seeks to deny her?
We may never know what happened behind closed doors today, but once out of them, Rice's Republican hecklers were right back at it after the meeting. Graham said he was "more disturbed now than I was before" about Rice, and McCain didn't appear to be changed at all. McCain told the Cable blog at Foreign Policy that Rice "clearly stated she was wrong when she made her original statements on the attack," and he called on Rice to repeat that admission publicly.
He added, at the press conference:
We are significantly troubled by many of the answers we got and some that we didn’t get concerning evidence that was overwhelming leading up to the attack on our consulate,” McCain said. “It is clear that the information that she gave the American people was incorrect when she said it was a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a hateful video. It was not and there was compelling evidence at the time that it was certainly not the case.
That quote is why I have to agree more than ever with Melissa calling this charade “infuriating” on Sunday. I noted this morning in my write-up about this that Brandeis University professor Anita Hill said this may be about mere politics. Here's what she said on the show:
In reality, what it is, I think, is this pushback on what we saw in the (2012) election with a powerful coalition of people of color, of women–led by single women, of course. In fact, it is a coalition that is shifting the political landscape. And frankly, people like John McCain–who have really benefited from what the landscape was like before, are sort of on the outs, and on the fringe.
Author Rebecca Traister followed up Hill’s point by noting that what she deemed coded language which McCain and others are employing in their criticisms, including calling Rice’s response to the Benghazi attacks “not very bright,” is so incorrect that the question of why they’re using it is a valid one.
We all know by now that Rice, the White House, and the CIA have all said that she was given talking points to use on the Sunday talk shows which didn't reveal confidential information. McCain and company appear to wish that, intelligence purposes be damned, that information should have been revealed. Whether or not Sunday show talking points are better than silence is another question, but to assert that Rice should've, ahem, gone rogue on live television for his satisfaction is a deeply silly thing for McCain to suggest.
The immediate effect of today's meeting is the granting of new life to the grandstanding, which is annoying to a degree. This is the problem with performing diplomacy and honest debate in most any venue. There is a danger in taking your critics and their criticisms seriously when they clearly do not do you the same favor. McCain's criticisms aren't serious ones, but we may have to entertain them a bit longer because Rice didn't ignore them.
But her initiating today's meeting keeps the story alive, and encourages us in the media to crack the case of exactly why McCain and his colleagues are doing this to her. Other than examining the racial and gendered social politics which are at best politically awkward, McCain's mania over this remains the only compelling aspect of this tale. As Jay Bookman explained well today in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the narrative Republicans—and their network—are selling is nonsense. Taken at face value, it seems there’s no solid explanation for why McCain has beef with Rice—unless you count as legitimate Republicans potentially getting payback for Rice’s 2008 criticisms of McCain, or just some good, old-fashioned appealing to the Republican base.
We'll see how that pays off for him, and his party. I'd argue Republicans like McCain have made Rice's nomination for Secretary of State more likely than ever, and I don't see the Republican Senate minority effectively standing in her way to confirmation. They may very well be bringing about the very outcome they seek so desperately to prevent, and I wouldn't be shocked at all if Rice has known that all along.