This was a very difficult week for Ambassador Susan Rice. She was under constant attack by various Republican senators, especially Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and John McCain, of Arizona. During a recent press conference President Obama came out in defense of Ambassador Rice telling Sen. McCain to come after him instead of Susan Rice.
Roland Martin and the Washington Watch roundtable break down this political battle between Republicans, Democrats and the White House.
This week’s Washington Watch roundtable features Sonya Ross of the Associated Press, political commentator Armstrong Williams, political journalist Joseph Williams and “The Washington Post”‘s Michael Fletcher.
MR. MARTIN: All right, folks. Welcome back.
This was a very difficult week, if you will for Ambassador Susan Rice. She was under constant attack by various Republican senators, especially Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and John McCain, of Arizona. Check this out.
[BEGIN VIDEO CLIP.]
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: And the reason I don’t trust her is because I think she knew better. I don’t think she deserves to be promoted.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: We will do whatever’s necessary to block the nomination, that’s within power, as far as Susan Rice is concerned.
SEN. GRAHAM: I don’t think we’re doing very well in the UN, quite frankly.
[END OF VIDEO CLIP.]
MR. MARTIN: Her boss, President Barack Obama, held a news conference; and he wasn’t pleased with the attacks on his ambassador.
[BEGIN VIDEO CLIP.]
PRES. BARACK OBAMA: But let me say specifically, about Susan Rice, she has done exemplary work. She has represented the United States and our interests in the United Nations with skill and professionalism and toughness and grace. 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 UN ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to s- — debir- — besmirch her reputation is outrageous.
But when they go after the UN ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me.
[END OF VIDEO CLIP.]
MR. MARTIN: “… then they[’ve] got a problem with me”!
MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS: “Bring it!”
MR. MARTIN: I thought he was going to drop the mic and walk off right – at that moment right there.
MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: Well, I actually thought it was a great week for Susan Rice. I don’t know whether it was just floating her name in the first place with no intentions of nominating her, but I think that it has given the President energy and energized him to really consider it. I mean there’s no one [who] can question her background and her record and her understanding of foreign policy and these type issues. She’s definitely qualified.
And the President, as I’ve said during the hearings of Justice Thomas – he has a right to per- — appoint whatever justices to the Court – whomever he chooses to the Supreme Court – to the secre- — as secretary of state. He is the President of the – of the United States, and I think you should defer and just trust his judgment. And I think Lindsey Graham and John McCain are totally out of line and even – attacking the Pre-
— I actually agree with the ri- — the President. If you want to attack somebody – he made a nomination. She was doing his bidding. Attack the President!
MR. MARTIN: But also, what’s interesting is that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was over the State Department – not Susan Rice. And it’s – I – I feel as if no one wants to bring up Secretary Clinton, or even – before he resigned – David Petraeus because, frankly, they are seen as so popular in the nation’s capital –
MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS: They’re golden[?].
MR. MARTIN: — by both – both sides of the aisle.
MR. FLETCHER: That’s right.
MR. MARTIN: And so they said, “Look, we don’t” – “We’re not going to attack Clinton, so we’ll go after Rice because she went on television.” But she wasn’t the one who was over the State Department. The State Department made the decision not to add security there in Benghazi. It wasn’t Ambassador Rice.
And so what do you think at play here? Are they really trying to look at her as an easy target a- — target, as a piñata?
MR. FLETCHER: Yeah, I think they want to torpedo the normina- — nomination, if they can, and re- — I think, with the intention of weakening this president, who’s coming off a strong election victory. Anything they can do to sort of cast aspersions, create a cloud – I think they feel like it takes away a little bit of the President’s leverage. And I think that’s what they’re going for ’cause, as Armstrong says, who is better qualified to be secretary of state right now in this country? Look at her resumé. Look at her background – you know, NSC; you know, UN ambassador. So, I think that’s what it’s about. That’s –
MR. MARTIN: I –
MR. FLETCHER: — about weakening –
MR. MARTIN: — believe –
MR. FLETCHER: — the President.
MR. MARTIN: — I believe this administration should put her name up for secretary of state, and they should welcome the fight. I think it sent – I believe at the outset of a – of a second administration, you need to send a signal: “We’re not playing with you. We were real nice in the first four years. We held back Elizabeth Warren from” – “from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau” because of Senator Mitch McConnell. You guys” – “So, here’s the deal. You wanna swing? Let’s swing.”
I think [if] you start off with a fight, you’re sending the right signal to the Republicans in the Senate and the House that “we’re playing for keeps” in the second four years.
MS. ROSS: Ambassador Rice’s name happened to be the first one that came up that was available for assault right after a bruising election. So, if it weren’t her name, just think who else’s name might have come up, and what would we be looking at here? Ambassador Rice obviously is up for the job. The President’s made that clear. So, what other line of demarcation can they draw?
MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: John Kerry’s name surfaced. They didn’t attack him.
MR. MARTIN: Senator John –
MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS: [Crosstalk.]
MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS: Absolutely.
MS. ROSS: The President –
MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: Yeah.
MS. ROSS: — said – right – in the same news conference that you’re referencing, that – that she’s his person.
MR. MARTIN: Well, no. See, in the news conference, he said he said he hadn’t made a decision.
MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: Right.
MR. FLETCHER: Yeah, yeah.
MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS: Not made a decision, but if he chose to nominate her, he’s going to nominate her. So, I think that – that your point is – Roland, is right on the money, but I also think that John McCain and Lindsey Graham are up on a bit of a limb here – because you don’t hear very many other voices from the national security committees – Susan Collins has not been out –
MR. MARTIN: D- –
MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS: — front.
MR. MARTIN: — [unintelligible] –
MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS: — but – but her –
MR. MARTIN: — [unintelligible] – yeah.
MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS: — [unintelligible]. Yeah, but hers was very much qualified. You know, you hear a lot of other Republicans who are on those committees who are in a decision to confirm her withholding judgment to a degree. They may say, “Well, there are some questions, but we’re not going to block her out of hand.” Marco Rubio said that. A couple other people on those committees have said that.
So, they may be out on a bit of a limb. So, I think if he wants to have a fight – President Obama, that is – this is the one to have.
MR. MARTIN: Does this administration, you believe, risk having lots of air sucked out of the discussion if this Benghazi discussion just continues and continues and conti- — at some point, you’ve got to have a definitive conclusion to this. Otherwise, it can just go on and on.
MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: Well, there’s so much we don’t know, and there’s so much they’re not telling us. And until they bring closure with this – whether it’s the Petraeus hearings or whatever – this – this water spigot is not going to stop leaking.
MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS: Yeah, but if the – it’s in the Republicans in Congress – it’s in their best interest to keep it at a steady drip, as opposed to having a one-shot deal. Now –
MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: But the –
MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS: — they’re talking about –
MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: — President –
MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS: — committees –
MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: — controls the drip.
MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS: — he –
MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: He could shut it down.
MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS: — but he’s also saying –
MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: But he does. He –
MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS: — but he –
MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: — could shut –
MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS: — also is saying –
MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: — it down.
MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS: — but he’s also saying, “You asked” – “You want for” – “information. Ask me. I’ll give it to you. You want my people to testify? They will.”
MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: Sometimes –
MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS: And that –
MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: — you don’t know what to ask for.
MS. ROSS: Think –
MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS: Well, sometimes –
MS. ROSS: — about the —
MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS: — you have to –
MS. ROSS: — patterns –
MR. JOSEPH WILLIAMS: — you have to do some more research to find that out. And if you want a hearing, they can have a hearing. If they want to get answers conclusively and definitively, they can.
MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: The President –
MS. ROSS: — think about the –
MR. ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS: — [crosstalk] –
MS. ROSS: — think about the patterns and habits of this town. These are permutations that we’ve witnessed after every two-term president was reelected – between terms, you know. So, this fits right into the pattern of behavior that has been the case since President Clinton was reelected in 1996.
MR. MARTIN: Here’s the thing, Michael. This administration should start off with having the most aggressive stance possible – aggressive on the fiscal cliff –
MR. FLETCHER: Oh, yeah.
MR. MARTIN: — aggressive on nominations. We saw many of his nominations held up in the past four years, even when it came to the federal bench, other appointments. I just think, “Look. You took a lot of punches in the first four years.” To me, it’s time for the President to throw some punches back.
MR. FLETCHER: I – and I think he’s on that course right now. I mean I think he’s learned from the first term. He tried to play ball. He tried to be accommodating. He wanted to forge some kind of bipartisan comity in this town, and he realized it’s not going to happen.
MR. MARTIN: All right.
MR. FLETCHER: So, I think he’s – he’s ready to fight, and you see it with Rice, and you’ll see it with other things.
MR. MARTIN: Sonya, Armstrong, Joe, Michael, we appreciate it.
I’ll have a pocket square for you next time.