Senate panel votes 16-2 to endorse Rice
Date: Wednesday, January 19, 2005
By: Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Condoleezza Rice won strong but not unanimous endorsement as secretary of state from a Senate panel Wednesday, assuring skeptical Democrats she welcomed debate about the nation's foreign policy course and wouldn't sugarcoat advice to President Bush.
If confirmed by the full Senate as expected, Rice would be the first black woman to hold the post. Confirmation had been expected as soon as Thursday, but Democrats said they wanted more time, at least until next week.
"We can certainly have, I think, a healthy debate about the course that we should take going forward," Rice said before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 16-2 to recommend her confirmation.
"We've had to make a lot of decisions, some of them good, some of them bad," she allowed in apparent response to sometimes forceful questioning about the Iraq war, terrorism planning and other subjects.
"My assessments may not always be ones that you want to hear. They may not always be ones with which you agree. But I will tell you what I think," Rice said.
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, said Democrats would not seek to prevent Rice's confirmation, although several were expected to vote against her. The vote by the full Senate is expected next Wednesday, he said.
Rice would succeed Colin Powell at the State Department after serving four years as Bush's White House national security adviser and closest foreign policy confidante. Powell said goodbye to State Department employees Wednesday but will stay until Rice is confirmed.
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., invoked Powell's reputation as a voice of caution outside Bush's inner circle.
"Your predecessor had a reputation of being willing to maybe tell the president some things that he didn't always want to hear," Obama said. He urged Rice "to display some independence" and question the White House line.
In nearly 10 hours of Senate questioning over two days, Rice displayed both her famous loyalty to Bush and a promise to speak her mind to her boss and his opponents alike.
"I have no difficulty telling the president exactly what I think. I've done that for four years," Rice replied to Obama. "Sometimes he agrees and sometimes he doesn't."
Her counsel will remain private, Rice said, and no one should expect her to reveal any differences with Bush as secretary of state.
"I want to be clearly understood: We are one administration, with the president in the lead," she said.
Former presidential candidate John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., were the only two votes against Rice, but a few other Democrats on the committee said they voted for her with some reservations.
Rice was not candid in assessing the administration's record on Iraq and gave evasive or unhelpful answers to questions about the U.S. position on torture, plans for dealing with nuclear ambitions in Iran and other topics, Democrats told her Wednesday.
Boxer had the most confrontational exchanges with Rice. As she did Tuesday, Boxer laid part of the blame for the death of U.S. troops in Iraq at Rice's door, telling her she had oversold the reasons for war.
"It seems to me a rigidness here, a lack of flexibility," Boxer said.
"I feel, and I know not everyone agrees with me," Boxer said, "that this war and all of these horrific deaths and the wounded and all of that, is a direct result of not leveling with the American people."
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the senior Democrat on the committee, suggested Rice also advise the president "to read a little bit of history."
"I'm going to vote for Dr. Rice, but I pray to the Lord that she's at least telling the president, 'Hey, boss, it's not going that well,'" Biden said.
At the State Department, Powell drew long applause from employees that former general called both his troops and his family.
"You were my troops, you were America's troops," Powell said. "You are the carriers of America's values."
He called Rice "a dear friend" and said she would bring "gifted leadership" to the department.