After weeks of attacks from Senate Republicans, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has withdrawn herself from consideration for Secretary of State. Here’s a portion of her letter to President Obama:
I am highly honored to be considered by you for appointment as Secretary of State. I am fully confident that I could serve our country ably and effectively in that role. However, if nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly – to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities. That trade off is simply not worth it to our country…Therefore I respectfully request that you no longer consider my candidacy at this time.
This, obviously, is a big victory for Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, who spearheaded the opposition to Rice, using the attacks in Benghazi as pretext for what seems to be a petty partisan spat. Graham, in particular, will have a nice soundbite for his 2014 reelection fight—and any potential primary challenge he might face.
As for the actual conduct of American foreign policy, this boosts the standing of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel, who are both on the short list to lead the State Department. As a Democrat, Kerry seems like the logical choice, but his appointment runs the risk of losing a Democratic seat in the Senate. Indeed, the recently defeated Scott Brown has all but announced his intent to run again if a seat opens up.
That leaves Hagel, whose virtues—a good relationship with President Obama, reasonable ideas on foreign policy—must be balanced against the fact that he supported the bulk of George W. Bush’s agenda during his time in the Senate. As a matter of sending the wrong message, I think it’s a bad idea to include former Bush Republicans in a Democratic cabinet. As a matter of politics, however, it’s not the worst idea—not only does it burnish Obama’s bipartisan bona fides—which the public still cares about—but there’s a fair chance that Republicans will oppose Hagel with everything they have, on account of the fact that choosing him keeps a seat in Democratic hands.
President Obama is almost certainly looking forward to the prospect of Senate Republicans opposing the nomination of one of their former colleagues. At the least, it gives Obama a chance to make another attack on the uncompromising, unreasonable Republican Party.
As a final point, there’s something to be said about the sequence of events here. Angry over the reelection of the nation’s first black president, a handful of old white senators—one of whom hails from the cradle of the Confederacy—launch hysterical and dishonest attacks on said president’s nominee for Secretary of State, a well-qualified African American woman.
I have nothing to say about the motives of McCain or Graham, but if Republicans are still curious about their low standing with African Americans, they should take note of incidents like this.