Commentary Magazine


Topic: John McCain

The Wrong Way to Answer Rand

Yesterday, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham struck back at Rand Paul’s Wednesday filibuster with bitter attacks on his stand on drone attacks. McCain mocked Paul’s day in the spotlight as “a stunt aimed at firing up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms.” Graham was so mad about it that he changed his mind and voted to confirm John Brennan as director of the C.I.A. just in order to send a statement about his support of the drone program that Paul had attacked.

Both McCain and Graham were correct to point out that the filibuster was fought on what is basically a non-issue. As I wrote on Wednesday, while Paul was conducting his filibuster, the Kentucky senator’s real beef is not with the imagined threat of the government ordering a drone strike on a U.S. citizen sitting in a café on U.S. soil. Rather, it is with the war the United States is fighting against Islamist terrorists who continue to pose a deadly threat to the homeland as well as to our friends and interests abroad. Paul’s goal is to withdraw from this conflict and to pretend that it is not one that is being forced upon us by our enemies. That is a dangerous position that deserved the censure of the two GOP amigos.

But it should also be understood that while McCain and Graham were right on the policy, they were dead wrong on the politics. It’s no use pretending that Paul is merely appealing to the margins of the political spectrum as his far more extreme and less politically adroit father Ron did during his presidential campaigns. That Paul’s filibuster was conducted on behalf of a bogus issue doesn’t change the fact that it was an act of political genius that captured the imagination of many Americans who might not ordinarily think much of the senator. Dismissing his achievement only made Paul’s critics look hopelessly out of touch.

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Yesterday, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham struck back at Rand Paul’s Wednesday filibuster with bitter attacks on his stand on drone attacks. McCain mocked Paul’s day in the spotlight as “a stunt aimed at firing up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms.” Graham was so mad about it that he changed his mind and voted to confirm John Brennan as director of the C.I.A. just in order to send a statement about his support of the drone program that Paul had attacked.

Both McCain and Graham were correct to point out that the filibuster was fought on what is basically a non-issue. As I wrote on Wednesday, while Paul was conducting his filibuster, the Kentucky senator’s real beef is not with the imagined threat of the government ordering a drone strike on a U.S. citizen sitting in a café on U.S. soil. Rather, it is with the war the United States is fighting against Islamist terrorists who continue to pose a deadly threat to the homeland as well as to our friends and interests abroad. Paul’s goal is to withdraw from this conflict and to pretend that it is not one that is being forced upon us by our enemies. That is a dangerous position that deserved the censure of the two GOP amigos.

But it should also be understood that while McCain and Graham were right on the policy, they were dead wrong on the politics. It’s no use pretending that Paul is merely appealing to the margins of the political spectrum as his far more extreme and less politically adroit father Ron did during his presidential campaigns. That Paul’s filibuster was conducted on behalf of a bogus issue doesn’t change the fact that it was an act of political genius that captured the imagination of many Americans who might not ordinarily think much of the senator. Dismissing his achievement only made Paul’s critics look hopelessly out of touch.

The question is not whether the grass roots of the Republican Party were inspired by his stand. They were. How could they not want to cheer a man who took a courageous stand in that manner while so many of their party’s leaders have lacked the guts or the skill to confront the president on many big issues? The question is what those who understand that Paul is wrong on the issue and that he is poised to drag the party down a path that will lead it to abandon its traditional support for a strong America will do about it. If they don’t think of something, it will be the end of the Republican Party’s long-held consensus on foreign policy.

The lesson of the filibuster is that people want to follow a person who leads publicly and courageously. Irrespective of the wisdom of his stand, that is just what Paul did. The willingness of so many other conservative senators—including those like Marco Rubio who don’t agree with Paul’s approach to foreign policy—to flock to the Senate floor while he spoke and offer him support shows they understood what McCain and Graham haven’t figured out. For the pair to manifest disrespect for Paul’s achievement is political stupidity of the highest order. It also makes their gentlemanly decision to forgo a filibuster on Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense look all the more pusillanimous.

Yet the irony here is that while Republicans are excited by Paul’s stand, any decision to change the direction of the party’s take on foreign policy would contradict their desire to improve their electability after their defeat last November.

As much as Paul’s stand inspired Republicans and even generated respect from Democrats, they need to remember that most Americans support the drone policy. They may be sick of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they don’t share Paul’s disinterest in fighting the “perpetual war” against Islamists because they know the threat is real. They also know that the idea that the only legitimate fighting is being conducted on battlefields between soldiers is hopelessly outmoded.

Obama won re-election in part by bragging about killing Osama bin Laden and chiding Mitt Romney for his disinterest in the hunt for the arch terrorist. Moreover, if Republicans are foolish enough to follow Paul down the road toward embracing a form of isolationism, they will be branded as the weak party on defense and concede foreign policy as an issue to the Democrats for a generation.

Those who wish to save the GOP from this fate can’t let Paul speak for the party on these issues. But if they are to do it they will have to show at least as much guts as he did this week and avoid sounding, as McCain and Graham did yesterday, like cranky old men telling the kids to get off their lawn.

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McCain: Incompetence Is No Disqualifier

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senator John McCain signaled that he would no longer hold up his former colleague Chuck Hagel’s nomination after Congress returns. “I don’t believe he is qualified,” Mr. McCain said. “But I don’t believe that we should hold up his nomination any further because I think it’s a reasonable amount of time to have questions answered.”

McCain’s answer does more to sum up what’s wrong with partisanship, comity, and how senators treat national security than any other recent comment. When a cabinet nominee comes before the Senate, senators should consider any number of factors. Before deference to the president’s choice, friendship, or consideration of that nominee’s past or present statements, one question should be considered disqualifying, and that is the question of competence.

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Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senator John McCain signaled that he would no longer hold up his former colleague Chuck Hagel’s nomination after Congress returns. “I don’t believe he is qualified,” Mr. McCain said. “But I don’t believe that we should hold up his nomination any further because I think it’s a reasonable amount of time to have questions answered.”

McCain’s answer does more to sum up what’s wrong with partisanship, comity, and how senators treat national security than any other recent comment. When a cabinet nominee comes before the Senate, senators should consider any number of factors. Before deference to the president’s choice, friendship, or consideration of that nominee’s past or present statements, one question should be considered disqualifying, and that is the question of competence.

What McCain is, in effect, saying is that he has no personal or professional problem with putting an incompetent man in charge not only of America’s defense but also—because of what falls under the Pentagon’s umbrella—most of America’s intelligence assets as well.

McCain prides himself on being a maverick. How sad it is that in the twilight of his great career, McCain now is so willing to knowingly undercut U.S. national security. How reassuring it must be to Kim Jong-un in North Korea, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon, and Ali Khamenei in Iran that McCain is so willing to help install an unqualified Defense Secretary. The only questions now is not whether the will test the United States, but when and how many U.S. serviceman will die because of it.

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Is a Hagel Filibuster Still Possible?

Just when it seemed as if Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense seemed almost certain, a crucial Senate Republican may be changing his mind about supporting a filibuster of the embattled nominee. As Politico reports, Senator John McCain is now leaving open the possibility of joining a filibuster of Hagel if the White House continues to refuse to release information about the president’s “actions and orders” on the night of the 9/11 terrorist attack in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of four Americans.

By joining his friend and colleague Lindsey Graham in demanding more data about Benghazi as the price for removing a hold on Hagel, McCain is moving away from his previous stand that a filibuster of a nominee for a senior Cabinet post is inappropriate. With two Republicans saying they would vote to confirm Hagel and several others agreeing with McCain that an up or down vote should not be denied their former colleague, it had looked as if the president’s choice was certain to be confirmed this week. But by adding his weight to the request for more about Benghazi, McCain may have, at least temporarily, changed the dynamic of the Hagel battle. Since the administration has resisted Senate demands to learn more about the president’s involvement in the Libya fiasco, this could mean that Hagel will have to wait until at least after the President’s Day holiday to get his vote.

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Just when it seemed as if Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense seemed almost certain, a crucial Senate Republican may be changing his mind about supporting a filibuster of the embattled nominee. As Politico reports, Senator John McCain is now leaving open the possibility of joining a filibuster of Hagel if the White House continues to refuse to release information about the president’s “actions and orders” on the night of the 9/11 terrorist attack in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of four Americans.

By joining his friend and colleague Lindsey Graham in demanding more data about Benghazi as the price for removing a hold on Hagel, McCain is moving away from his previous stand that a filibuster of a nominee for a senior Cabinet post is inappropriate. With two Republicans saying they would vote to confirm Hagel and several others agreeing with McCain that an up or down vote should not be denied their former colleague, it had looked as if the president’s choice was certain to be confirmed this week. But by adding his weight to the request for more about Benghazi, McCain may have, at least temporarily, changed the dynamic of the Hagel battle. Since the administration has resisted Senate demands to learn more about the president’s involvement in the Libya fiasco, this could mean that Hagel will have to wait until at least after the President’s Day holiday to get his vote.

On the surface, Benghazi has little if anything to do with Hagel’s questionable fitness for high office. Many in the Senate have justified qualms about Hagel’s views about Israel, Iran, terrorism and defense cuts but McCain has taken the position that escalating the use of the filibuster to encompass cabinet nominations is a step towards all out partisan warfare that he isn’t willing to take. But McCain seems to agree with Graham and other Republicans that it is vital that the truth about Benghazi isn’t swept down the memory hole by the administration and their complacent media cheerleaders. If linking Hagel to that affair is the only way to drag more information out of the White House, then McCain may have concluded that it is the right thing to do.

It may be that a delay won’t convince Democrats to abandon their party line on Hagel. The strict partisan divide in the Senate Defense committee confirmation vote illustrated the willingness of pro-Israel Democrats to swallow even as unsatisfactory and unprepared a candidate as Hagel if the president demanded it of them. But if McCain feels that the Senate is being stiffed by the White House on Benghazi that may convince him to take actions on Hagel that he might otherwise not think about. With McCain joining a filibuster, finding 40 votes to stop the nomination would still be difficult but not as impossible as it seems today.

As I wrote yesterday, such a filibuster entails risks to the Republicans. But his dismal performance at his confirmation hearing and the transparent manner with which he sought to disavow previous controversial positions undermines the rationale that the president deserves his choice at the Pentagon. Hagel may still be on track for confirmation. But if the White House isn’t forthcoming with the information Graham and McCain want, it’s going to be even more difficult than he might have thought.

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If You Can’t Insult Ahmadinejad …

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a leading figure in a tyrannical regime that has murdered untold numbers of his own people and which funds international terrorism that has claimed the lives of many Americans, including our soldiers in Iraq. He is a Holocaust denier and, like the government he fronts, is a font of vicious anti-Semitic invective that has repeatedly threatened to destroy the State of Israel. But, according to a Michigan congressman, Americans should mind their manners when speaking of him.

Republican Justin Amash is a second generation Palestinian-American and is apparently under the impression that any comparison of even one of the vilest figures on the international stage to a monkey is a sign of racism against Persians or perhaps prejudice against Muslims and Arabs. Amash lashed out at Senator John McCain today for a humorous tweet in which the Arizona senator made fun of Ahmadinejad’s stated desire to be the first Iranian in space. The Iranians made an unsubstantiated claim that they sent a monkey into space last week and when he heard Ahmadinejad’s comment, McCain, like many other Americans, couldn’t contain his mirth on his Twitter feed:

So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space – wasn’t he just there last week? “Iran launches monkey into space” http://news.yahoo.com/iran-launches-monkey-space-showing-missile-progress-003037176.html

When he was told of criticism of his remark, the caustic McCain sent out another tweet:

Re: Iran space tweet – lighten up folks, can’t everyone take a joke?

But Amash doesn’t think taking Ahmadinejad’s name in vain is funny and tweeted the following:

Maybe you should wisen up & not make racist jokes.

Race is the third rail of American politics and any comment that smacks of hatred is abhorrent. But the attempt to depict Ahmadinejad as a victim of Western prejudice lacks credibility. The day that Americans can’t crack wise about a purveyor of hatred is one in which we not only have lost our sense of humor but also our moral compass.

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a leading figure in a tyrannical regime that has murdered untold numbers of his own people and which funds international terrorism that has claimed the lives of many Americans, including our soldiers in Iraq. He is a Holocaust denier and, like the government he fronts, is a font of vicious anti-Semitic invective that has repeatedly threatened to destroy the State of Israel. But, according to a Michigan congressman, Americans should mind their manners when speaking of him.

Republican Justin Amash is a second generation Palestinian-American and is apparently under the impression that any comparison of even one of the vilest figures on the international stage to a monkey is a sign of racism against Persians or perhaps prejudice against Muslims and Arabs. Amash lashed out at Senator John McCain today for a humorous tweet in which the Arizona senator made fun of Ahmadinejad’s stated desire to be the first Iranian in space. The Iranians made an unsubstantiated claim that they sent a monkey into space last week and when he heard Ahmadinejad’s comment, McCain, like many other Americans, couldn’t contain his mirth on his Twitter feed:

So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space – wasn’t he just there last week? “Iran launches monkey into space” http://news.yahoo.com/iran-launches-monkey-space-showing-missile-progress-003037176.html

When he was told of criticism of his remark, the caustic McCain sent out another tweet:

Re: Iran space tweet – lighten up folks, can’t everyone take a joke?

But Amash doesn’t think taking Ahmadinejad’s name in vain is funny and tweeted the following:

Maybe you should wisen up & not make racist jokes.

Race is the third rail of American politics and any comment that smacks of hatred is abhorrent. But the attempt to depict Ahmadinejad as a victim of Western prejudice lacks credibility. The day that Americans can’t crack wise about a purveyor of hatred is one in which we not only have lost our sense of humor but also our moral compass.

The conceit of Amash’s attempt to take McCain to the woodshed is the idea that Westerners see all third world peoples as animals who are less than human and unworthy of respect. But McCain wasn’t trying to imply that Iranians or Muslims are monkeys. He was poking fun at a man whose fantastical utterances and unabashed hate has become the butt of jokes for Westerners for years. Indeed, the problem with Ahmadinejad is that too many Americans don’t take the hatred and the existential threat his regime poses to Israel as well as to the security of the world seriously because he is a comic figure and so easily lampooned. If American comics have dehumanized him, it is not very different from the way Adolf Hitler and his Nazi and fascist allies were depicted in American popular culture before the world learned the tragic truth about the Holocaust. It is a not unnatural reaction for those who are themselves dehumanized by haters to return the favor, if only in humorous context. Although he denies the Holocaust while plotting a new one, Ahmadinejad is not the equivalent of Adolf Hitler. But one has to wonder how anyone, let alone a member of Congress, can muster up much outrage about some comic sniping aimed at the Iranian leader.

Amash is probably trying to use McCain’s tweet to further the popular idea that American Muslims and Arabs are suffering under the burden of prejudice. Though the post-9/11 backlash is more myth than reality, it would have been a terrible thing had McCain actually slurred Muslims or Persians. But he didn’t. He just made a joke about Ahmadinejad and the poor primate that is alleged to have been strapped into a rocket by his terrorist masters.

Americans have always laughed at their enemies. It is a healthy reaction and speaks of our self-confidence as well as our justified contempt for those who despise our democracy and threaten the peace of the world. The only questions about Ahmadinejad’s humanity stem from the hate that he spews, not a silly jest. Amash’s faux outrage about the insult directed at the Iranian president tells us more about his priorities than it does about those of McCain. 

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Why Congress Doesn’t Trust Obama on Immigration Reform

One of the reasons conservatives and pro-immigration reform politicians worried President Obama would do something to scuttle a bipartisan compromise on the issue is that it would follow a pattern Obama has set throughout his administration. The president has a habit of not participating in bipartisan negotiations and then harpooning them–or attempting to–from the outside. This was the case when Obama gave his much-derided rally during the fiscal cliff negotiations that seemed designed to kill the deal that was being formed at the 11th hour.

It was also exactly what Obama did with immigration reform last year, when Senator Marco Rubio stepped up to lead GOP efforts to find a compromise and the president preempted any possible deal with executive action. Yet as the Hill reminds us today, if Obama did something to derail immigration reform this time it would actually be the third time he worked assiduously and successfully to kill reform. The Hill notes the story of the ill-fated immigration reform negotiations of 2007. Obama, then a senator, asked to join the bipartisan negotiating group at its core, which agreed to oppose any amendment that could kill the bill even if they agreed with it to ensure the bill would move forward. Obama apparently ignored the negotiating sessions but always showed up for the press conferences, and then both supported and offered his own “poison pill” amendments, including the one that both parties credit with finishing off the reform effort for good:

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One of the reasons conservatives and pro-immigration reform politicians worried President Obama would do something to scuttle a bipartisan compromise on the issue is that it would follow a pattern Obama has set throughout his administration. The president has a habit of not participating in bipartisan negotiations and then harpooning them–or attempting to–from the outside. This was the case when Obama gave his much-derided rally during the fiscal cliff negotiations that seemed designed to kill the deal that was being formed at the 11th hour.

It was also exactly what Obama did with immigration reform last year, when Senator Marco Rubio stepped up to lead GOP efforts to find a compromise and the president preempted any possible deal with executive action. Yet as the Hill reminds us today, if Obama did something to derail immigration reform this time it would actually be the third time he worked assiduously and successfully to kill reform. The Hill notes the story of the ill-fated immigration reform negotiations of 2007. Obama, then a senator, asked to join the bipartisan negotiating group at its core, which agreed to oppose any amendment that could kill the bill even if they agreed with it to ensure the bill would move forward. Obama apparently ignored the negotiating sessions but always showed up for the press conferences, and then both supported and offered his own “poison pill” amendments, including the one that both parties credit with finishing off the reform effort for good:

Obama in 2007 backed an amendment to sunset a guest-worker program that was an essential part of an immigration deal crafted by Republicans and former Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

Kennedy opposed the amendment, but Obama — who was then running for president — supported the measure, and it was approved by one vote, 49-48.

The immigration bill then stalled, and the Senate coalition failed to regain enough momentum to push it to final passage.

Obama’s behavior apparently angered even Kennedy, who told the young senator he couldn’t just parachute in to torpedo the work. But that’s exactly what Obama did. As the bill began losing steam, on June 4, 2007 the Washington Post listed the primary obstacles to the compromise, including an amendment from Obama and Robert Menendez. The next day, Obama refused to back down, even if it meant killing the bill, explaining he intended to hold up the process until he could win the presidency. Two days after that, the bill was effectively dead, though for good measure two weeks later Obama would offer another controversial amendment just in case the bill gained any last-minute momentum before that year’s congressional summer break.

That history probably explains why the White House declined to dispute the Hill’s characterization of the events of 2007–they were accurate. And each time, Obama has made the decision to keep the issue on the table for electoral purposes. Before the 2008 election, he sabotaged the immigration reform process and then ran a Spanish-language ad against John McCain distorting McCain’s record on the issue and setting a new low for the campaign’s dishonest advertising and dirty tricks. When Rubio tried to fix the immigration system last year, Obama scuttled that one too, using the issue to help his re-election campaign.

The question now is whether Obama actually wants reform since he no longer needs the votes, or if yet again he’ll stand outside the process while others are working toward a compromise only to destroy the process at the last moment. The latter would, unfortunately, be more consistent with Obama’s history.

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Where’s the Outrage on Morsi’s Hate?

As we noted last week, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s attempt to explain his anti-Semitic and anti-American televised rant to a group of visiting American senators was that his claim that Israelis were “the descendants of apes and pigs” was taken out of context. That was bad enough but as it turns out the first reports about the meeting fell far short of conveying just how offensive Morsi’s rationalization of hate was. As Josh Rogin reported yesterday at Foreign Policy’s blog The Cable, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware who was at the meeting said the Morsi implied that Jewish control of the media was the reason why he was being called to account for his hate speech.

This calls into question not just the continuing U.S. aid to the Muslim Brotherhood government headed by Morsi but the determination of the senatorial delegation, including its leader John McCain, to continue their support for the flow of more than a billion dollars in American taxpayer money to a hatemonger. The details of the meeting make it hard to understand how McCain could continue to justify such American support when the explanation for the Morsi rant is actually worse than the original anti-Semitic smears.

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As we noted last week, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s attempt to explain his anti-Semitic and anti-American televised rant to a group of visiting American senators was that his claim that Israelis were “the descendants of apes and pigs” was taken out of context. That was bad enough but as it turns out the first reports about the meeting fell far short of conveying just how offensive Morsi’s rationalization of hate was. As Josh Rogin reported yesterday at Foreign Policy’s blog The Cable, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware who was at the meeting said the Morsi implied that Jewish control of the media was the reason why he was being called to account for his hate speech.

This calls into question not just the continuing U.S. aid to the Muslim Brotherhood government headed by Morsi but the determination of the senatorial delegation, including its leader John McCain, to continue their support for the flow of more than a billion dollars in American taxpayer money to a hatemonger. The details of the meeting make it hard to understand how McCain could continue to justify such American support when the explanation for the Morsi rant is actually worse than the original anti-Semitic smears.

According to Coons:

“He was attempting to explain himself … then he said, ‘Well, I think we all know that the media in the United States has made a big deal of this and we know the media of the United States is controlled by certain forces and they don’t view me favorably,'” Coons said.

The Cable asked Coons if Morsi specifically named the Jews as the forces that control the American media. Coons said all the senators believed the implication was obvious.

“He did not say [the Jews], but I watched as the other senators physically recoiled, as did I,” he said. “I thought it was impossible to draw any other conclusion.”

“The meeting then took a very sharply negative turn for some time. It really threatened to cause the entire meeting to come apart so that we could not continue,” Coons said.

Multiple senators impressed upon Morsi that if he was saying the criticisms of his comments were due to the Jews in the media, that statement was potentially even more offensive than his original comments from 2010.

“[Morsi] did not say the Jewish community was making a big deal of this, but he said something [to the effect] that the only conclusion you could read was that he was implying it,” Coons said. “The conversation got so heated that eventually Senator McCain said to the group, ‘OK, we’ve pressed him as hard as we can while being in the boundaries of diplomacy,'” Coons said. “We then went on to discuss a whole range of other topics.”

This raises some serious questions about both U.S. policy and the priorities of those who took part in the meeting.

One has to wonder why it is that a week went by without any of those present at the meeting calling out Morsi for this latest outrage. Did those who kept quiet about this, including McCain, think that Morsi raising the issue of unnamed groups — an obvious reference to Jews — manipulating the media was immaterial to the question of whether U.S. aid to Egypt should continue? Or did they decide that it was unhelpful to their goal of maintaining the U.S. embrace of the Brotherhood for this story to get out sooner?

This revelation makes it imperative that all those present clarify their positions about a policy that requires American taxpayers to go on funding a government that is beginning to rival Iran as a source of anti-Semitic invective. Under Morsi, Egypt is neither a U.S. ally nor a friend. It is a tyrannical regime that has not only subverted the promise of the Arab Spring but also has the potential to be a major source of instability in the region.

If Morsi wants to keep his American money, he’s going to have to do better than to blame his problems on the Jews. And if the senators who attended this meeting and the administration that is determined to keep coddling the Brotherhood wish to justify their position, they are going to have to explain to the American people how giving billions to Morsi is compatible with our values or interests.

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Will Senate GOP Help Clinton Escape Accountability Once Again?

As Alana mentioned, Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense may hinge not on policy or his qualifications, but something more important to the Senate club: how much the others senators like him. John Kerry, the president’s choice for secretary of state, will almost certainly breeze through his own confirmation hearings for the same reason. But the best contrast to the story about whether the cool kids will let Hagel eat lunch with them is Politico’s story on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s upcoming testimony on Benghazi.

In the wake of the attack, which left our ambassador and three others dead, I wrote that the fact that Clinton’s State Department denied requests for more security for our diplomatic team there made two things clear. First, that declining the security requests was irresponsible given the danger of the posting, and second, that the request itself was evidence that Clinton was negligent in the attention she was paying to the Benghazi team even though the folly of this approach was becoming more obvious by the day. A subsequent accountability review report came to the same conclusions, and painted a picture of a poorly administrated, chaotic, and inattentive State Department. So what is her appearance before a Senate panel expected to be like? From Politico:

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As Alana mentioned, Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense may hinge not on policy or his qualifications, but something more important to the Senate club: how much the others senators like him. John Kerry, the president’s choice for secretary of state, will almost certainly breeze through his own confirmation hearings for the same reason. But the best contrast to the story about whether the cool kids will let Hagel eat lunch with them is Politico’s story on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s upcoming testimony on Benghazi.

In the wake of the attack, which left our ambassador and three others dead, I wrote that the fact that Clinton’s State Department denied requests for more security for our diplomatic team there made two things clear. First, that declining the security requests was irresponsible given the danger of the posting, and second, that the request itself was evidence that Clinton was negligent in the attention she was paying to the Benghazi team even though the folly of this approach was becoming more obvious by the day. A subsequent accountability review report came to the same conclusions, and painted a picture of a poorly administrated, chaotic, and inattentive State Department. So what is her appearance before a Senate panel expected to be like? From Politico:

GOP members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee promise that Clinton will face a “tough but respectful” grilling when she testifies about the Obama administration’s handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya that killed four Americans.

After all, the outgoing secretary is still on the mend from a concussion and subsequent blood clot she suffered after a bad fall over the holidays. She served in the Senate with many of those she will appear before. And she has close friendships with Republicans like Sen. John McCain, perhaps the most vocal critic of the administration’s response to Benghazi.

In other words, don’t be surprised if the hearing is simply a ruse to throw Clinton a surprise going-away party. We were already made aware that Clinton’s friendship with McCain was enabling her to avoid accountability for Benghazi’s failures. Clinton should have lost her job immediately. Barring that, GOP foreign policy voices should have been raised over her management at State during the debacle. Instead, they targeted Susan Rice, eventually leading to the spiking of her possible nomination to succeed Clinton. (Though no one played a more important role in sidelining Rice’s nomination than Clinton herself.)

The article suggests that Clinton’s recent illness and concussion will earn her sympathy, which of course they should–except she already had the sympathy before her illness. That is, there is no change in the Senate GOP’s posture toward Clinton: they went easy on her months ago, and they’ll continue to do so.

When I wrote about the accountability review report, I mentioned former (Bill) Clinton advisor Aaron David Miller’s theory that the perception that Clinton will run for president in 2016–a perception Clinton has relentlessly fed–has won her fear, not love. That may be. Politico is also running with a story on Public Policy Polling’s recent survey on a hypothetical matchup between Clinton and Chris Christie, and the Clinton-watchers at the Washington Post are scouring her words for a hint that she’ll pursue that course:

“And then retirement?” a reporter asked.

“I don’t know that that’s the word I would use,” she said, “but certainly stepping off the very fast track for a little while.”

No one seems particularly concerned that the upcoming hearing on Benghazi will harm Clinton’s legacy, least of all Clinton. And it could do the opposite: Republicans who try criticizing Clinton on the issue in a future election will surely be asked–and rightfully so–why they exonerated her the first time around.

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Obama and the “Moral High Ground”

In April 2008, during the Democratic primary season, Barack Obama criticized John McCain for seeming to favor economic policies of the Bush administration that McCain had once opposed. “Well, they may have stopped offending John McCain’s conscience somewhere along the road to the White House, but George Bush’s economic policies still offend my conscience, and they still offend yours,” Obama said.

The Bush tax cuts offended his conscience, and so did the Bush deficits. Well, they may have stopped offending Barack Obama’s conscience somewhere along the road to the White House, you might say, considering the fiscal cliff deal the Obama White House has agreed to. The reason conservatives enjoy pointing things like this out is not to play “gotcha” so much as to remind people why Obama was always so off-putting to non-liberals. To Obama, those who disagreed with him were cast as immoral. They weren’t simply political opponents of Obama’s; they were, to the current president, opponents of all that is good and righteous.

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In April 2008, during the Democratic primary season, Barack Obama criticized John McCain for seeming to favor economic policies of the Bush administration that McCain had once opposed. “Well, they may have stopped offending John McCain’s conscience somewhere along the road to the White House, but George Bush’s economic policies still offend my conscience, and they still offend yours,” Obama said.

The Bush tax cuts offended his conscience, and so did the Bush deficits. Well, they may have stopped offending Barack Obama’s conscience somewhere along the road to the White House, you might say, considering the fiscal cliff deal the Obama White House has agreed to. The reason conservatives enjoy pointing things like this out is not to play “gotcha” so much as to remind people why Obama was always so off-putting to non-liberals. To Obama, those who disagreed with him were cast as immoral. They weren’t simply political opponents of Obama’s; they were, to the current president, opponents of all that is good and righteous.

Obama’s “fiscal cliff” deal to extend the Bush tax cuts comes, ironically, the same week he quietly signed an extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act–another source of controversy during the Bush administration. Bush’s national security policies did not escape Obama’s moral judgment. In a 2007 speech, Obama said Bush “decided to take the low road” in its response to military threats: “We did not reaffirm our basic values, or secure our homeland. Instead, we got a color-coded politics of fear.”

The fight over FISA was a minor one in the grand scheme of things, but also a symbolic one. Obama staunchly opposed immunity to telecoms that had cooperated with the government–one Bush-era provision of the law. “I am proud to stand with Senator Dodd, Senator Feingold and a grassroots movement of Americans who are refusing to let President Bush put protections for special interests ahead of our security and our liberty. There is no reason why telephone companies should be given blanket immunity to cover violations of the rights of the American people,” Obama had said.

Pretty clear, right? That promise didn’t even make it through to the election.

Immediately upon taking office in 2009, Obama outlined exactly how he would take us from “the low road” to the “moral high ground,” and that included shuttering secret CIA prisons around the globe and ending long-term secret detentions. Upon signing that executive order, the moral preening was rewarded with applause. A new day had dawned. Yet as the Washington Post reported yesterday, Obama has relied on long-term secret detentions “without legal oversight” throughout his first term in office:

Defense attorneys and others familiar with the case, however, said the men were arrested in Djibouti, a close ally of Washington. The tiny African country hosts a major U.S. military base, Camp Lemonnier, that serves as a combat hub for drone flights and counterterrorism operations. Djibouti also has a decade-long history of cooperating with the United States on renditions….

The sequence described by the lawyers matches a pattern from other rendition cases in which U.S. intelligence agents have secretly interrogated suspects for months without legal oversight before handing over the prisoners to the FBI for prosecution.

Perhaps Obama just thinks the “moral high ground” is overrated. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he has only the best interests of the country in mind, and that he is not the morally bankrupt, power-hungry, fear-mongering political opportunist he would accuse others of being if they were to follow his path.

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Can Immigration Be a Winning Issue for Lindsey Graham?

Every so often a political event that seems inevitable fails to materialize. One such event that looks to be headed in that direction is a serious primary challenge to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Long derided by conservative grassroots as “Lindsey Grahamnesty” for his moderate stance on immigration, the two-term senator has battled his own side enough that most expected the Tea Party primary wave to land on the shores of the Palmetto State with full force in 2014, when Graham’s term is up.

Yet for all such talk, there hasn’t been much noise coming from actual candidates who would challenge Graham. One reason for this, as Politico notes, is Graham’s high-profile opposition to Susan Rice’s potential nomination as secretary of state. Not only did Graham win the battle–Rice withdrew her name from consideration–but it’s also seen as a victory in conservatives’ effort to raise the profile of the administration’s failure in Benghazi and its ensuing evasiveness over misleading statements to the press about it. Graham’s poll numbers have seen a bounce from it as well. But there are other reasons for Graham’s sudden stability.

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Every so often a political event that seems inevitable fails to materialize. One such event that looks to be headed in that direction is a serious primary challenge to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Long derided by conservative grassroots as “Lindsey Grahamnesty” for his moderate stance on immigration, the two-term senator has battled his own side enough that most expected the Tea Party primary wave to land on the shores of the Palmetto State with full force in 2014, when Graham’s term is up.

Yet for all such talk, there hasn’t been much noise coming from actual candidates who would challenge Graham. One reason for this, as Politico notes, is Graham’s high-profile opposition to Susan Rice’s potential nomination as secretary of state. Not only did Graham win the battle–Rice withdrew her name from consideration–but it’s also seen as a victory in conservatives’ effort to raise the profile of the administration’s failure in Benghazi and its ensuing evasiveness over misleading statements to the press about it. Graham’s poll numbers have seen a bounce from it as well. But there are other reasons for Graham’s sudden stability.

One underreported aspect of Graham’s relationship with the conservative base is the changing politics of immigration for the GOP. Mitt Romney’s lopsided loss among Hispanics (and immigrant groups in general) in the November election gave new momentum, as well as popular support and political cover, to the GOP’s immigration moderates. Though South Carolina voters are not Florida voters, it would be a strange sight indeed for conservative voters to primary Graham over the issue of immigration but not, say, Marco Rubio–a conservative senator often associated with the Tea Party movement and a beneficiary of the right’s “primarying” strategy himself–who was planning to introduce his own version of the DREAM Act this past year.

John McCain, Graham’s fellow immigration reformer and close friend in the Senate, was also vulnerable on the issue in 2010 and seemed to run to his right on immigration to fend off a primary challenge. Graham may not have to adjust his position on immigration to fend off a primary challenge–indeed, Graham’s enthusiasm for immigration reform is looking to be more like the party’s future than its past. If that shift really takes place, it should take the issue off the table for primary challengers and may make Graham’s moderation seem wise and ahead of its time. That would be a remarkable turnaround for the party and the issue of immigration, yet it is a quite plausible scenario.

There are, of course, other reasons Graham is stronger than he seemed all along. Aside from the Benghazi episode, Graham has the fundraising and party network advantages of incumbency. He has also been one of the party’s leaders on foreign policy, where his views have been closer to his conservative base than on the issue of immigration.

He’s not out of the woods yet. The so-called fiscal cliff debate looks headed for a compromise involving raising taxes, and Graham has suggested the right be open to raising tax rates. Yet if the party caves on taxes as part of a final deal, it may absolve Graham of some of the blame. If conservatives in the GOP end up supporting some tax increases, Graham won’t be an outlier–even among conservatives. That might take the issue off the table, or at least dull its impact, the way immigration went from being evidence of Graham’s apostasy to a GOP mainstream policy position just in time for Graham’s reelection.

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How Washington Rejected Susan Rice

I wrote yesterday that Susan Rice’s decision to withdraw her name from consideration to be the next secretary of state was as much the result of a steady campaign against her from the left as it was a result of John McCain and the GOP’s campaign against her from the right. I wrote that the GOP side hadn’t been really driving this campaign for a while now. The Atlantic Wire offers a timeline that backs this up.

The timeline shows McCain shifting his criticism as early as November 20. But as I noted, by that time Democrats had latched on to the fight and the bipartisan effort doomed Rice. But events also make a convincing case for what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, in defense of Rice: this was D.C. insider politics on a grand scale. Rice didn’t just lose to McCain or Hillary Clinton; she lost to Washington. It’s worth recalling, then, just how the elements of the capital worked against her.

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I wrote yesterday that Susan Rice’s decision to withdraw her name from consideration to be the next secretary of state was as much the result of a steady campaign against her from the left as it was a result of John McCain and the GOP’s campaign against her from the right. I wrote that the GOP side hadn’t been really driving this campaign for a while now. The Atlantic Wire offers a timeline that backs this up.

The timeline shows McCain shifting his criticism as early as November 20. But as I noted, by that time Democrats had latched on to the fight and the bipartisan effort doomed Rice. But events also make a convincing case for what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, in defense of Rice: this was D.C. insider politics on a grand scale. Rice didn’t just lose to McCain or Hillary Clinton; she lost to Washington. It’s worth recalling, then, just how the elements of the capital worked against her.

Barack Obama. We should start with the president, since some have been suggesting that Rice’s withdrawal proves Obama’s weakness. It just isn’t so. If Obama wanted Rice to be his secretary of state, that’s what he’d get. But the president got quite chummy with Bill Clinton just as the former president agreed to try and save Obama’s reelection hopes by giving a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention and then campaigning in swing states for Obama. After the attack in Benghazi, Hillary Clinton had some serious explaining to do. After all, it was her State Department that messed up by not providing enough security to the ambassador’s team and then denying requests for additional security.

Yet Clinton was conveniently enabled to avoid the press, the cameras, and in general the spotlight. Susan Rice’s mistakes after Benghazi pale in comparison to Clinton’s mistakes before Benghazi. Susan Rice took Clinton’s place on the Sunday shows, got herself in some trouble, and Obama decided he didn’t want to spend the political capital to protect her the way he protected Hillary.

Hillary Clinton. Clinton made her opposition to Rice known as soon as the latter landed in hot water over the Benghazi controversy. Clinton told her allies on the Hill and in the press that she preferred John Kerry for the job. Message received.

Liberal opinion journalists. Maureen Dowd and Dana Milbank happily obliged, making the fight against Rice obnoxiously personal. Dowd said Rice “rented” her soul. Milbank said Rice was pushy and rude. Lloyd Grove said Rice had a personality disorder. The vicious attacks from the leftists in political media changed the dynamic of the controversy.

Senate GOP. The role of Republicans in the Senate is obvious, but it’s worth drawing attention to one element of it in particular. President Obama wasn’t the only one protecting Hilary Clinton from the glare of the Benghazi fallout; so was John McCain. McCain and Clinton are friends and were fellow senators before Clinton took the job at Foggy Bottom. McCain protected his friend, and was helping another longtime senator as well: John Kerry, who was expected to be the president’s second choice after Rice for secretary of state. McCain wasn’t the only one. “I think John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues,” Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins not-so-subtly said last month after meeting with Rice. “I’d rather have John Kerry,” retiring Senator Jon Kyl had said.

Senate Democrats. John Kerry stayed quiet throughout the debate, and wisely so. He had his fellow Democrats in Washington to critique Rice and complement Kerry. “Sen. Kerry is under consideration for a high position because he’s talented, has tremendous integrity and respect — he also happens to be a senator,” said Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin. “Part of your responsibility in the administration is your relationship with the Senate and House, and obviously Sen. Kerry has an incredible relationship. I think colleagues on both sides of the aisle will tell you that.” Translation: if the White House wants full cooperation from the Democratic-run Senate, Kerry would be a wise choice.

Additionally, Kerry’s nomination would open up a Senate seat in Massachusetts, and Governor Deval Patrick has apparently already reached out to Vicki Kennedy–Ted Kennedy’s widow–to consider taking that seat.

In the end Rice had few allies on either side of the aisle in Washington, and the opposite was true of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. A culture of clubbiness that borders on tribal loyalty was just far too much for Rice to overcome.

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McCain Could Be Key for Old Friend Hagel

It looks like Senator John McCain’s strong opposition to Susan Rice’s potential secretary of state nomination set off a chain of events that could end up leading to Chuck Hagel’s nomination for the top role at the Pentagon.

You can’t exactly blame Republican critics of Rice; they had legitimate concerns about her role in Benghazi. But some have speculated McCain’s long-time friendship with John Kerry–now the most likely candidate for secretary of state–may have also played a role.

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It looks like Senator John McCain’s strong opposition to Susan Rice’s potential secretary of state nomination set off a chain of events that could end up leading to Chuck Hagel’s nomination for the top role at the Pentagon.

You can’t exactly blame Republican critics of Rice; they had legitimate concerns about her role in Benghazi. But some have speculated McCain’s long-time friendship with John Kerry–now the most likely candidate for secretary of state–may have also played a role.

McCain has also been very close with fellow Vietnam veteran Hagel, though it’s not clear how much that relationship was strained by the 2008 election, when Hagel became a vocal critic of McCain’s foreign policy.

Now that McCain has decided to stay on the Armed Services Committee, he will obviously play a role in the next secretary of defense confirmation hearings. As a hawk on Iran and a supporter of U.S. intervention in Syria, McCain could provide crucial cover for Hagel, who is considered soft on Iran and opposed to foreign intervention. Or McCain could do to Hagel what Hagel did to him in 2008. He repeatedly whacked McCain on foreign policy during the election, and promptly joined Obama’s national security advisory board once it was over.

“In good conscience, I could not enthusiastically—honestly—go out and endorse [McCain],” Hagel told the New Yorker in 2008. “when we so fundamentally disagree on the future course of our foreign policy and our role in the world.”

Hagel better hope his old friend doesn’t feel the same way.

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Rice: Confirmation Process Would Have Been “Disruptive”

NBC News has the exclusive:

Embattled U.N. envoy Susan Rice is dropping out of the running to be the next secretary of state after months of criticism over her Benghazi comments, she told NBC News on Thursday.

“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,” Rice wrote in a letter to President Obama, saying she’s saddened by the partisan politics surrounding her prospects.

“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,” she wrote in the letter obtained by NBC News.

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NBC News has the exclusive:

Embattled U.N. envoy Susan Rice is dropping out of the running to be the next secretary of state after months of criticism over her Benghazi comments, she told NBC News on Thursday.

“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,” Rice wrote in a letter to President Obama, saying she’s saddened by the partisan politics surrounding her prospects.

“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,” she wrote in the letter obtained by NBC News.

John McCain’s decision to join the Foreign Relations Committee may have been the final push. Even if Rice was able to get through the Senate, the confirmation hearings would have been highly contentious and Benghazi-focused, which the White House has good reason to want to avoid.

And now the ballooning speculation that Chuck Hagel is at the top of the list for secretary of defense makes more sense. If Rice was nominated to lead State, Kerry would probably have been the top contender for Defense. Now Kerry is the most likely choice for secretary of state.

I still think Hagel would have problems getting confirmed because of his anti-Israel history and opposition to foreign intervention. The fact that he’s a former senator works in his favor, but conservative hawks and AIPAC would certainly object. While Hagel still considers himself a Republican, there is sure to be some bad blood between him and the party after his vocal support of Obama and recent endorsement of a Democratic Senate candidate.

Either way, Scott Brown may want to start prepping for another Senate bid, because it sounds like there’s going to be a vacant seat in Massachusetts soon.

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McCain to Join Senate Foreign Relations Committee

The most vocal opponent of Susan Rice’s potential secretary of state nomination, John McCain, is joining the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just in time for the confirmation hearings. Josh Rogin reports

MANAMA – The committee that will soon vet the next secretary of state will have a new Republican heavyweight next year: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the man leading the charge against potential nominee U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.

McCain told The Cable he will join the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and also remain on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) in an interview on the sidelines of the 2012 IISS Manama Security Dialogue. …

It’s unclear whether the five or six Senate Republicans who have come out against Rice’s potential nomination would succeed in their effort to thwart her nomination, if it materializes. McCain said the Senate should use the confirmation process to properly examine the president’s choice, and he pointed to her SFRC hearing as the place for the final showdown.

“I’ll wait and see if she’s nominated and we’ll move on from there. She has the right to have hearings. We’ll see what happens in the hearings,” he said.

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The most vocal opponent of Susan Rice’s potential secretary of state nomination, John McCain, is joining the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just in time for the confirmation hearings. Josh Rogin reports

MANAMA – The committee that will soon vet the next secretary of state will have a new Republican heavyweight next year: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the man leading the charge against potential nominee U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.

McCain told The Cable he will join the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and also remain on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) in an interview on the sidelines of the 2012 IISS Manama Security Dialogue. …

It’s unclear whether the five or six Senate Republicans who have come out against Rice’s potential nomination would succeed in their effort to thwart her nomination, if it materializes. McCain said the Senate should use the confirmation process to properly examine the president’s choice, and he pointed to her SFRC hearing as the place for the final showdown.

“I’ll wait and see if she’s nominated and we’ll move on from there. She has the right to have hearings. We’ll see what happens in the hearings,” he said.

In other words, Obama will have another headache to deal with if Susan Rice gets the nod. Having John Kerry (Rice’s most likely competitor for secretary of state) and Bob Corker (a critic of Rice) as the top Democrat and Republican, respectively, on the committee would be bad enough on its own. But McCain had been leading the charge against her, and having him on the committee will mean a lot more scrutiny into the administration’s Benghazi response.

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Washington Insiders Focus on Rice to Protect Their Own

Two weeks ago, I asked a question about the administration’s handling of the Benghazi terrorist attack and its aftermath to which we have yet to get a response: Why does Secretary of State Hillary Clinton still have her job? The CIA made mistakes in Benghazi too, and the agency’s director has since resigned (mostly over an affair, but the point is that he’s no longer in charge of the CIA). President Obama’s evasions and misdirections after the attack were brought up in the second presidential debate and were even briefly a campaign issue. And now Susan Rice, who became the public face of the administration’s false talking points, is fighting for her reputation and her political future, which she hopes will involve running Foggy Bottom.

Yet we still hear nothing about Clinton, who should own the lion’s share of the blame. That our ambassador had to even request adequate security (requests that were denied) in a war zone testifies to Clinton’s incompetence on the issue. And so while it’s absolutely appropriate to seek answers from Rice–who volunteered to be the administration’s point person on this–there is something unseemly about the focus on Rice and the threats to hold up her possible nomination at State.

It’s not, as the Washington Post’s thoroughly reprehensible editorial suggested, about Rice’s race. (Republicans have been far more inclined than Democrats to nominate African Americans for secretary of state.) It’s not about gender either, of course. It’s about a certain chummy Washington insider mentality. Here’s Politico yesterday:

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Two weeks ago, I asked a question about the administration’s handling of the Benghazi terrorist attack and its aftermath to which we have yet to get a response: Why does Secretary of State Hillary Clinton still have her job? The CIA made mistakes in Benghazi too, and the agency’s director has since resigned (mostly over an affair, but the point is that he’s no longer in charge of the CIA). President Obama’s evasions and misdirections after the attack were brought up in the second presidential debate and were even briefly a campaign issue. And now Susan Rice, who became the public face of the administration’s false talking points, is fighting for her reputation and her political future, which she hopes will involve running Foggy Bottom.

Yet we still hear nothing about Clinton, who should own the lion’s share of the blame. That our ambassador had to even request adequate security (requests that were denied) in a war zone testifies to Clinton’s incompetence on the issue. And so while it’s absolutely appropriate to seek answers from Rice–who volunteered to be the administration’s point person on this–there is something unseemly about the focus on Rice and the threats to hold up her possible nomination at State.

It’s not, as the Washington Post’s thoroughly reprehensible editorial suggested, about Rice’s race. (Republicans have been far more inclined than Democrats to nominate African Americans for secretary of state.) It’s not about gender either, of course. It’s about a certain chummy Washington insider mentality. Here’s Politico yesterday:

As she wraps up her tenure at Foggy Bottom and mulls over a possible 2016 White House bid, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decade-old bipartisan friendship with McCain appears to have helped shield her from GOP fire — even as her agency finds itself in the thick of a partisan battle over Benghazi.

Their deep bond and mutual respect was born out of eight years serving in the Senate together, their shared admiration for the military, numerous trips around the world to war zones, security conferences in Germany — they once even took in a sunset in the Arctic Circle.

Far be it from me to let something like national security get in the way of a good Arctic sunset, but this seems patently irresponsible. When Republican candidates run as “outsiders,” this is exactly the sort of thing they don’t want to be associated with. And when they question the Beltway’s obsession with bipartisanship, this is the kind of thing they’re questioning.

I’m not going to tell McCain and Clinton that they should follow Harry Truman’s advice and get a dog if they want a friend in Washington. Comity and cooperation have their benefits. And it’s true that liberal columnists who clearly side with Hillary Clinton in her feud with Susan Rice have used this occasion to stick up for their friend–but they are opinion writers at liberal newspapers, not high-ranking senators and leaders on American national security and foreign policy.

Meanwhile, the other politician who would gain from Rice’s downfall is, as Jonathan wrote today, John Kerry–another member of the Senate foreign relations old guard.

Clinton should be held accountable for her failure, and instead her bipartisan friends will protect her. Clinton will skate on to her expected 2016 presidential run unscathed by her egregious incompetence that resulted in the death of our ambassador and three others. And the “dear friend” of Bashar al-Assad–I’m quoting John Kerry himself here, so take it up with him–hopes to advance his career as well by climbing up the rubble of Rice’s.

By all means, get answers from Rice on Benghazi. But letting colleagues and friends escape accountability because of that friendship is its own brand of negligence.

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Rice v. Kerry is Foreign Policy Trivia

Yesterday’s meeting between United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and leading Republican members of the U.S. Senate did nothing to defuse the controversy over her misleading statements about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Senators Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte and John McCain were not pleased with Rice’s explanations and appear poised to lead a spirited opposition to Rice should, as many expect, she be tapped by President Obama to be the next secretary of state. Along with other members of the administration, Rice has much to answer for when it comes to Benghazi, and Democrats should not be under the impression that the GOP will knuckle under to the president’s attempt to intimidate them or patently false charges of racism. But conservatives need to think carefully about what the key issue at State is before they decide to go all in on an attempt to stop Rice’s appointment.

As tempting a target as Rice is, there are far more important issues at stake in determining the future of American foreign policy than whether Foggy Bottom is run by her or Senator John Kerry, the other leading candidate for the job who is obviously favored by his Senate colleagues. The impending confirmation battle needs to be about something more than just an attempt to take down a vulnerable friend of the president. It is an opportunity for Republicans to initiate a debate about the direction taken by the administration in the Middle East. On Secretary Clinton’s watch the administration has done more than merely pretend that al-Qaeda was as dead as Osama bin Laden when its affiliates are alive and well and killing Americans. It has made nice with Islamists in the region, such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and allowed a crucial nation to slip from the hands of a friendly authoritarian to an Islamist dictator linked to Hamas. It is on these big-picture issues that the Senate ought to take its stand and not just on what Rice said in September about Benghazi.

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Yesterday’s meeting between United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and leading Republican members of the U.S. Senate did nothing to defuse the controversy over her misleading statements about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Senators Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte and John McCain were not pleased with Rice’s explanations and appear poised to lead a spirited opposition to Rice should, as many expect, she be tapped by President Obama to be the next secretary of state. Along with other members of the administration, Rice has much to answer for when it comes to Benghazi, and Democrats should not be under the impression that the GOP will knuckle under to the president’s attempt to intimidate them or patently false charges of racism. But conservatives need to think carefully about what the key issue at State is before they decide to go all in on an attempt to stop Rice’s appointment.

As tempting a target as Rice is, there are far more important issues at stake in determining the future of American foreign policy than whether Foggy Bottom is run by her or Senator John Kerry, the other leading candidate for the job who is obviously favored by his Senate colleagues. The impending confirmation battle needs to be about something more than just an attempt to take down a vulnerable friend of the president. It is an opportunity for Republicans to initiate a debate about the direction taken by the administration in the Middle East. On Secretary Clinton’s watch the administration has done more than merely pretend that al-Qaeda was as dead as Osama bin Laden when its affiliates are alive and well and killing Americans. It has made nice with Islamists in the region, such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and allowed a crucial nation to slip from the hands of a friendly authoritarian to an Islamist dictator linked to Hamas. It is on these big-picture issues that the Senate ought to take its stand and not just on what Rice said in September about Benghazi.

The real issue at the State Department is not whether Rice lied about Benghazi. Everyone in the administration lied about it from the top down and that is something that Congress should thoroughly explore. Senator Graham was right when he said that there ought to be a hold put on the promotion of anyone involved in Benghazi until there is a complete investigation of a scandal that can’t be buried by Democrats eager to move on now that the president has been re-elected. But Rice’s confirmation hearing, assuming that the president does nominate her, can’t substitute for the sort of special committee probe that is needed on that issue.

The administration’s eagerness to portray the terror attack on our diplomats in Benghazi as a spontaneous protest stemmed from an agenda which required that nothing be allowed to disrupt the president’s politically-motivated narrative that bin Laden’s death meant the end of the threat of Islamist terrorism. However, the willingness of this administration to acquiesce to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and even to go on sending billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Morsi regime should not be passed over in the zeal to nail Rice on Benghazi.

Allowing Rice to be rewarded for her deceptions rightly rankles Republicans, but no one should be under the impression that substituting Kerry for her will improve American foreign policy. In fact, her willingness to throw her weight around at the UN during her tenure there may mean she will be a tougher exponent of American interests than a weak figure like Kerry who was well known as Bashar Assad’s best friend in Washington. Derailing Rice to help Kerry may make sense to John McCain, but it’s not clear why other Republicans should care. There needs to be accountability for all of the administration’s errors, including the shocking tilt toward the Brotherhood, and not just Benghazi.

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Ayotte, Graham Say They’ll Hold Rice’s Nomination

Susan Rice’s meeting with Senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte yesterday might have set back her potential secretary of state bid even more than initially thought. Now Graham and Ayotte are promising to place a “hold” on her possible nomination, until Rice provides more answers:

If President Barack Obama selects United Nations envoy Susan Rice to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he’ll face determined opposition from at least three Republican senators: John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Ayotte and Graham would each place a “hold” on Rice’s nomination if she were nominated, their aides told NBC News Tuesday. McCain’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Susan Rice’s meeting with Senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte yesterday might have set back her potential secretary of state bid even more than initially thought. Now Graham and Ayotte are promising to place a “hold” on her possible nomination, until Rice provides more answers:

If President Barack Obama selects United Nations envoy Susan Rice to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he’ll face determined opposition from at least three Republican senators: John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Ayotte and Graham would each place a “hold” on Rice’s nomination if she were nominated, their aides told NBC News Tuesday. McCain’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

With the fiscal cliff debate heating up, a nomination filibuster probably isn’t something the Republican leadership wants to sink much political capital into. But this is an important fight for a few reasons. First, if reports from yesterday’s meeting are accurate, then the administration cherry-picked intelligence to support a narrative that, at best, they suspected might be inaccurate and, at worst, they knew was misleading. If that’s the case, McCain, Graham and Ayotte aren’t aiming for Rice, they’re aiming above her. If she’s nominated, it will give them a way to both keep the Benghazi controversy in the news and uncover more information about it.

Rice is attending another meeting with Senators Collins and Corker today. Their impressions after could help decide how far Republicans take this issue.

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Report: Rice Was Aware of AQ Links Before Sunday Show Blitz

Susan Rice was supposed to be meeting with Republican senators this morning to dispel concerns about her likely secretary of state nomination, but it sounds like she only made matters worse. In a press conference after the meeting, Sen. John McCain said he was “significantly troubled” by many of the answers Rice gave:

“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers we got, and some that we didn’t get, concerning evidence leading up to the attack on our consulate, the tragic deaths of four brave Americans, and whether Ambassador Rice was prepared or informed sufficiently in order to give the American people a correct depiction of the events that took place. 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 that was certainly not the case, including statements by Libyans as well as other Americans who are fully aware that people don’t bring mortars and rocket-propelled grenades to spontaneous demonstrations.” 

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Susan Rice was supposed to be meeting with Republican senators this morning to dispel concerns about her likely secretary of state nomination, but it sounds like she only made matters worse. In a press conference after the meeting, Sen. John McCain said he was “significantly troubled” by many of the answers Rice gave:

“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers we got, and some that we didn’t get, concerning evidence leading up to the attack on our consulate, the tragic deaths of four brave Americans, and whether Ambassador Rice was prepared or informed sufficiently in order to give the American people a correct depiction of the events that took place. 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 that was certainly not the case, including statements by Libyans as well as other Americans who are fully aware that people don’t bring mortars and rocket-propelled grenades to spontaneous demonstrations.” 

Sources told CNN’s Dana Bash that Rice told the senators she was aware of classified information suggesting al-Qaeda involvement before her controversial Sunday show appearances. Bash also reports that Rice said she regrets using the CIA talking points.

If Rice had said she was speaking based on the intelligence she had at the time, Republicans would probably have let her off the hook. That was the standard line the State Department and other Obama administration officials have given when asked about Rice’s Sunday show comments. But few people will have sympathy for her if she admitted she knew the talking points were potentially inaccurate and misleading before she used them. I actually wonder if she planned to tell the senators that when she initiated the meeting, or if they somehow pulled the information out of her. It certainly doesn’t help her case for the secretary of state nomination, which was supposedly the entire point of the meeting.

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The President’s Benghazi Problem

During his press conference yesterday, President Obama was asked about the statements by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who said if Susan Rice is nominated to be secretary of state, they will do everything in their power to block her nomination, and they simply don’t trust Ambassador Rice after her misleading accounts about the lethal attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11.

In response, the president, after lavishly praising Ms. Rice, said this:

As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her.  If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me.  And I’m happy to have that discussion with them.  But for them to go after the U.N. Ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous… When they go after the U.N. Ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me. 

I’ll get to the president’s answer in a moment. For now, it’s important to recall that five days after the Benghazi massacre, Ambassador Rice went on five Sunday talk shows insisting that (a) we had “substantial security presence” at the consulate before the attack; (b) the attacks were spontaneous, not a pre-planned terrorist attack, and the result of “a small handful of heavily armed mobsters;” and (c) “a direct result of a heinous and offensive video that was widely disseminated.” On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Rice said, “We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”

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During his press conference yesterday, President Obama was asked about the statements by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who said if Susan Rice is nominated to be secretary of state, they will do everything in their power to block her nomination, and they simply don’t trust Ambassador Rice after her misleading accounts about the lethal attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on September 11.

In response, the president, after lavishly praising Ms. Rice, said this:

As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her.  If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me.  And I’m happy to have that discussion with them.  But for them to go after the U.N. Ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous… When they go after the U.N. Ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me. 

I’ll get to the president’s answer in a moment. For now, it’s important to recall that five days after the Benghazi massacre, Ambassador Rice went on five Sunday talk shows insisting that (a) we had “substantial security presence” at the consulate before the attack; (b) the attacks were spontaneous, not a pre-planned terrorist attack, and the result of “a small handful of heavily armed mobsters;” and (c) “a direct result of a heinous and offensive video that was widely disseminated.” On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Rice said, “We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.”

Ambassador Rice was wrong on every particular. The security for the American consulate was nearly non-existent; the attacks were premeditated; they were carried out by Islamic terrorists; there was no mob protest; the video had nothing to do with the attacks; and we did have information that the attacks were pre-planned.

Ambassador Rice’s claims came despite the fact that, according to congressional testimony, the State Department had surveillance feeds and they were able to monitor the attacks in “almost real-time” and that according to media reports, an unarmed Predator drone was performing surveillance missions over Libya when the attack on the consulate in Benghazi began; within 24 hours of the deadly attack, the CIA station chief in Libya reported to Washington that there were eyewitness reports that the attack was carried out by militants; and e-mails show that officials at the White House and State Department were advised two hours after attackers assaulted the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi that an Islamic militant group (Ansar al-Sharia) had claimed credit for the attack.

In addition, Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says that within 24 hours of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi he had information from intelligence agencies that what happened were terrorist attacks, not spontaneous attacks inspired by the anti-Islamic video. Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said that accounts of the attack and the firepower employed “indicate something more than a spontaneous protest.”

There’s more.

The Washington Post was reporting on the day after the attack that “the early indications were that the assault had been planned” by “heavily-armed militias.” Journalist Eli Lake reported, “Within 24 hours of the 9-11 anniversary attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi, U.S. intelligence agencies had strong indications al Qaeda–affiliated operatives were behind the attack, and had even pinpointed the location of one of those attackers.” And in a story in early October, the Associated Press reported, “The State Department now says it never believed the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was a film protest gone awry.”

I have recounted this record in detail simply to highlight how ludicrous is President Obama’s claim that Senators McCain and Graham want to “besmirch [Rice’s] reputation” and that they are going after her “because they think she’s an easy target.”

Ambassador Rice’s credibility has been massively damaged because she misled the public (probably unknowingly) long after there was evidence that her claims were at least questionable and probably wrong. To the degree that she’s an “easy target,” it’s because the case against her and the administration is overwhelming. And the gallant Obama need not worry. The concerns about the negligence and misconduct of his administration don’t stop with Ms. Rice. Those concerns go right to the top.

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Lindsey Graham: Obama “Failed as Commander in Chief”

Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain didn’t waste any time responding to President Obama’s claim that they are “going after” Susan Rice because “they think she’s an easy target.”

In a statement, Graham blasted both Obama and Rice, saying she’s “up to [her] eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle”:

“Mr. President, don’t think for one minute I don’t hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi.  I think you failed as Commander in Chief before, during, and after the attack.

“We owe it to the American people and the victims of this attack to have full, fair hearings and accountability be assigned where appropriate. Given what I know now, I have no intention of promoting anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle.”

On Greta Van Susteren last night, McCain pushed back on the president’s comments, calling them  “juvenile”:

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Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain didn’t waste any time responding to President Obama’s claim that they are “going after” Susan Rice because “they think she’s an easy target.”

In a statement, Graham blasted both Obama and Rice, saying she’s “up to [her] eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle”:

“Mr. President, don’t think for one minute I don’t hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi.  I think you failed as Commander in Chief before, during, and after the attack.

“We owe it to the American people and the victims of this attack to have full, fair hearings and accountability be assigned where appropriate. Given what I know now, I have no intention of promoting anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle.”

On Greta Van Susteren last night, McCain pushed back on the president’s comments, calling them  “juvenile”:

MCCAIN: You know, it’s interesting for the president to say something that juvenile. I’m not picking on anyone. Again, as we just said, four Americans died! Is that picking on anybody when you want to place responsibility and find out what happened so that we can make sure it doesn’t happen again?

And you know, it’s not a bad life being ambassador to the U.N. You have a nice suite in the Waldorf-Astoria and look pretty good. An so this — why they used her as their spokesperson on all the major networks that Sunday is still beyond me, but they did. And she…

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, the president said today that…

MCCAIN: And she used talking points from the White House. So we’re not picking on her. But we are holding her to some degree responsible. But have no doubt, we are holding the President of the United States responsible. And he is responsible and he has not — he has given contrasting versions of events to the American people.

Could I just remind you real quick — September 21, in the Rose Garden, he said it was, quote, “acts of terror.” That same night, he said to Steve Kroft on “60 Minutes,” it’s too early to know exactly how this came about. On September 20th, we’re still doing an investigation. September 24th, on “The View,” we’re still doing an investigation. And then before the United Nations on September 25th, “a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world.”

Now, he said that on September 25th. In the second debate, with Mitt Romney, he said, I called it an act of terror in the Rose Garden. He didn’t. He condemned acts of terror in the Rose Garden. And if he did, how come he told the United Nations a couple of weeks later that it was a senseless video that sparked a demonstration, when he knew full well there was no spontaneous demonstration?

So my response to the President of the United States is we’re not picking on anybody. We want answers, and the buck does stop at your desk, Mr. President. 

Assuming Rice is the nominee, this will all play out during the confirmation fight. Obama may be hoping he can keep Senate Democrats in line by framing GOP criticism of Rice as an unfair partisan attack. And it’s possible he can pick off some moderate Republicans with this strategy, too, who might be worried about clashing with a newly-reelected president over a “politicized” issue. 

But it’s still notable that Obama would be so intent on appointing Rice, given all of her Benghazi baggage. It’s true she’s one of his longest-serving advisors, and he seems to have a much warmer relationship with her than he has with Hillary Clinton (or John Kerry, for that matter). But you’d think it would save him a lot of grief to just choose another option.

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Where Did the Voters Go? Nowhere.

As the national vote total began to solidify last night, one question on the minds of Republicans was: Where are the missing voters? Last night it looked like Mitt Romney had received something like 10 to 15 percent fewer votes than John McCain had in 2008, even though his percentage of the overall vote was at least two points higher. What did this mean? Where did the voters go? They didn’t go to Barack Obama, because exit polls suggested he had basically turned out the same demographic support he had four years ago. So where are they? Did this suggest a significant element of the GOP base had stayed home? Perhaps evangelical voters quietly refusing to cast a ballot for a Mormon? Populist voters disgusted by the 47 percent tape?

As I write, Mitt Romney has 57.4 million votes. John McCain ended up with 59.9 million. It’s a little noticed fact that in two weeks following every presidential election, votes continue to be reported…by the millions. As I recall, Barack Obama got something like four million more votes in the weeks after election day, while John McCain got two or three million. It’s likely that by Thanksgiving, the final vote tally will show Romney very close to or even slightly exceeding McCain’s total.

So there are probably no missing voters. The idea offers a certain degree of cold comfort for conservatives and Republicans, because it would suggest the problem was with Romney’s candidacy in particular and not with the movement or the party. But it’s false, and they will not be spared the reckoning about the party’s future.

As the national vote total began to solidify last night, one question on the minds of Republicans was: Where are the missing voters? Last night it looked like Mitt Romney had received something like 10 to 15 percent fewer votes than John McCain had in 2008, even though his percentage of the overall vote was at least two points higher. What did this mean? Where did the voters go? They didn’t go to Barack Obama, because exit polls suggested he had basically turned out the same demographic support he had four years ago. So where are they? Did this suggest a significant element of the GOP base had stayed home? Perhaps evangelical voters quietly refusing to cast a ballot for a Mormon? Populist voters disgusted by the 47 percent tape?

As I write, Mitt Romney has 57.4 million votes. John McCain ended up with 59.9 million. It’s a little noticed fact that in two weeks following every presidential election, votes continue to be reported…by the millions. As I recall, Barack Obama got something like four million more votes in the weeks after election day, while John McCain got two or three million. It’s likely that by Thanksgiving, the final vote tally will show Romney very close to or even slightly exceeding McCain’s total.

So there are probably no missing voters. The idea offers a certain degree of cold comfort for conservatives and Republicans, because it would suggest the problem was with Romney’s candidacy in particular and not with the movement or the party. But it’s false, and they will not be spared the reckoning about the party’s future.

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