Susan Rice

Susan Rice

Apparently the meetings between potential Secretary of State nominee Susan Rice and cranky old warhawks didn’t go very well.

“Bottom line, I’m more disturbed now than I was before,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of the critics, said after the meeting.

The Republican senators have repeatedly said they are concerned with how Rice explained what caused the Benghazi attack during a series of Sept. 16 appearances on Sunday political talk shows. At the time, Rice said that a spontaneous demonstration led to the violence, a claim later debunked by intelligence officials and reports from the ground.

The White House and senior intelligence officials have said that Rice’s statement followed talking points they had approved, including vague wording designed to conceal intelligence information. Rice said that “extremist” elements had participated in the attack, and that the conclusions were preliminary pending FBI investigation.

The darkly comic part of this is that there’s probably no bigger liberal interventionist in the executive branch than Susan Rice. We may not have had a US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and by association a ruler other than Moammar Gadhafi, if it wasn’t for Susan Rice and her foreign policy perspective winning the day in 2011.

But McCain and Graham – and now Kelly Ayotte, the new amiga for the Three Neocon Amigos – want to collect a scalp because of their personal animosity toward the President, desire to look tough to the folks back home, and preference to show some kind of superiority on foreign policy, which could be useful in future circumstances. So they’ve settled on Rice as the source of their outbursts. John McCain in particular, who just a day before showed a softer approach toward Rice, now says that he would be “hard pressed” to support her for Secretary of State.

Rice has now acknowledged that there was no demonstration in Benghazi on the night of the attack on September 11, arguing that she worked off approved, unclassified talking points when she made comments on the Sunday shows. Even if she had classified knowledge, she wouldn’t have been able to release those details in a public forum. The Republican argument that Rice should have revealed classified information or done her own investigation to more readily answer questions about an attack five days after the fact doesn’t make much sense. Moreover, nobody has been able to properly explain why there’s supposed to be a cover-up here, and what the Administration sought in linking the attack to the anti-Muslim video that spawned demonstrations around the Middle East and North Africa (which Ansar al-Sharia, the group in Libya seen as responsible for the attack, cited as an opportunistic incident they could exploit by putting their attack in motion).

Meanwhile, this shouldn’t be so much a question about Benghazi as a question about the filibuster. Barack Obama clearly wants Rice as his next Secretary of State. He almost certainly has majority support in the Senate for that appointment. He may even have 60 votes. But there’s no reason that, short of 60 votes, a minority led by a vengeful John McCain should disrupt Obama from getting his choice of adviser in place. Advise and consent is one thing, but super-majority advise and consent doesn’t exist in the Constitution. In fact, the Federalist Papers argue specifically against it. “Its real operation is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of government and to substitute the pleasure, caprice or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent or corrupt junta, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority,” wrote Alexander Hamilton at the time. I don’t often quote Hamilton, but he’s clearly correct here.

Democrats have the ability to change the Senate rules at the beginning of the session. They plan to do it. Support groups reassembled a reform coalition to help with public opinion for the fight. But there’s no indication that Democrats plan to remove the 60-vote Senate by eliminating in any way the filibuster threshold for nominations and legislation. Sure, they may make it more arduous on the part of the minority. They may make them talk for a while. Do you think John McCain and Lindsey Graham would pass up the opportunity to talk, in uninterrupted fashion, about Benghazi and Susan Rice? Fox would build a new channel around it!

Unless Democrats are willing to subscribe to the normal majority rules that govern almost all legislative bodies in the world, we’re going to have more pointless Susan Rice situations.