Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the presumptive next Republican leader on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said today that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice is too political and not independent enough to be secretary of state.
"I've had warm relations with Susan Rice, and to me, if you look at what happened that day, I think she would be an outstanding head of the [Democratic National Committee]," Corker told The Cable in a short interview today, referring to Rice's Sept. 16 statements on the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
Corker said he will meet with Rice at the Capitol tomorrow. Today, Rice met with Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT). After their meetings, McCain, Graham, and Ayotte said they were not satisfied with Rice's answers regarding her Benghazi statements. Rice said in a statement afterwards that the intelligence community erred by originally saying there was a protest outside the U.S. mission that day, information Rice repeated on several talk shows.
Corker said the issue for him is not whether the intelligence community got it wrong, but the fact that Rice went along with the intelligence community's talking points without checking them independently against the classified information that was available to her at the time.
"She strikes me as someone who is always on message, someone who is always exactly parroting whatever it is the administration's position is. And I think most of us want someone who is more independent minded. And I think that's how she got herself in trouble that Sunday morning, by coming on and being the head of the DNC instead of really showing that independence - and that's of great concern to me," Corker said. "It's my understanding that she had access to the classified materials before she went on the air that morning. And it just fuels the perception that I have that she's far better for the administration as a political operative than she is as a secretary of state."
If chosen to replace Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) as the ranking Republican on SFRC, Corker's first major decision will be whether to mount a fight against the president's pending nominee for secretary of state. Rice is widely believed to be the front runner, although SFRC Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon are also rumored to be in contention. A nomination announcement could come as early as this week.
"I think all of us hold the secretary of state and secretary of the treasury to a different standard, meaning we want people who are very independent in those positions," Corker said, again referring to RIce. "We know that they are not going to publicly confront the people they are serving - we're talking about the president - but we want to know that we have people there that when they really have strong policy beliefs they are going to argue for those and try to put good policies in place for our country."
Unlike McCain, Graham, and Ayotte, who have pledged to oppose Rice if she is nominated, Corker said he hasn't made up his mind. But he is leaning against supporting Rice.
"I will give her a fair hearing, I always do. I don't make up my mind until I've heard everything," he said. "But I'm pretty skeptical."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.