Washington (AFP) – Nearly 100 Republican lawmakers warned President Barack Obama on Monday against nominating UN envoy Susan Rice to be his next secretary of state, saying she misled Americans over the Benghazi attack.
The 97 Republican House members wrote to Obama to say they were “deeply troubled” he was considering her as a replacement to Hillary Clinton because Rice “propagated a falsehood” about the attack on the US mission in Benghazi.
Rice went on American talk shows five days after the September 11 attack, in which four Americans died including the ambassador to Libya, to suggest it was a “spontaneous” outcome from a protest about an anti-Islam film that spun out of control.
The US administration later acknowledged that intelligence services had from the start considered the incident an act of terrorism involving extremists tied to Al-Qaeda.
Rice “is widely viewed as having either willfully or incompetently misled the American public in the Benghazi matter,” the lawmakers wrote.
“Making her the face of US foreign policy in your second term would greatly undermine your desire to improve US relations with the world and continue to build trust with the American people.”
Members of the House hold no confirmation power over presidential nominations. That authority rests with members of the US Senate, and some Republican senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham have threatened to block Rice if Obama nominates her to be the top US diplomat.
“Though Ambassador Rice has been our representative to the UN, we believe her misleading statements over the days and weeks following the attack on our embassy in Libya… caused irreparable damage to her credibility both at home and around the world,” the letter from House Republicans said.
“In light of this troubling situation and the continued unanswered questions, we strongly oppose any efforts to nominate Ambassador Susan Rice for the position of secretary of state.”
The Rice issue has emerged as a major political football in Washington, and her Democratic defenders including Obama himself have lashed out at Republican critics.
Senate Intelligence Committee head Dianne Feinstein stressed that Rice’s description was based on unclassified talking points provided by the CIA and that she should not be victimized for voicing what were described by several lawmakers as the best assessments of the intelligence community at the time.
Well over half of the 241 Republican members of the House did not sign the letter, including the party’s top leadership.
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry has also been touted as a possible replacement when Clinton goes, early in the New Year. Obama is expected to show his hand before his 21 January inauguration.