- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Senate overwhelmingly confirmed Condoleezza Rice to be President Bush’s new secretary of state yesterday despite biting charges from some Democrats that her role in planning and promoting the war in Iraq made her unfit to serve.

After a full day’s debate on Tuesday, the Senate voted 85-13 to approve her, with a dozen Democrats and the chamber’s lone independent voting against her. The 13 votes are the most against a secretary of state nominee in 180 years.

“Dr. Rice has been in the arena, making tough decisions and answering tough questions on a daily basis for four years,” said Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and Foreign Relations Committee chairman. “Dr. Rice is not just a survivor. Even under intense pressure, she has performed her duties successfully, with fairness, thoughtfulness and magnanimity. These are exactly the qualities we want in our top diplomat.”

She becomes the first black woman in the position, succeeding Colin L. Powell, the first black secretary of state. She was sworn in last night by White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. A ceremonial swearing-in is scheduled for tomorrow at the State Department with Mr. Bush attending.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat who led the opponents, said the high number of votes against Miss Rice’s confirmation showed a level of anxiety over her role in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

Mrs. Boxer said Miss Rice was not truthful then and continued to mislead the Foreign Relations Committee last week during her confirmation hearing.

“If you listened closely, she muddied the waters even more, so I gave her the chance to clear it up and she didn’t,” Mrs. Boxer said.

Still, she said she knew there was no chance of defeating Miss Rice’s nomination.

“What I’m doing is not about winning a vote. It’s simply about telling the truth as I see it,” she said.

Some Republicans saw it differently.

“I wonder why we’re starting this new Congress with a protracted debate about a foregone conclusion,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. “I can only conclude we’re doing this for no other reason than because of lingering bitterness over the outcome of the elections. We need to move on.”

If Democrats were Miss Rice’s fiercest opponents, some also were her strongest defenders, particularly Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. He called her “more than qualified to take on this critical position.”

Mr. Lieberman dissected his fellow Democrats’ complaints about Miss Rice and said he found them lacking.

“If you feel Condoleezza Rice is not qualified to be secretary of state of the United States, then of course you must vote against her,” he said. “But if you are — I hate to use the word ‘just’ — but just upset about some of the things this administration has done in Iraq, but if you feel otherwise that what we are doing now is all we can do to make the situation better, then I appeal to you to vote for Dr. Rice.”

Also yesterday, the Senate confirmed two other Cabinet nominees, both by voice vote.

Jim Nicholson, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and former ambassador to the Vatican, will become secretary of veterans affairs. Michael O. Leavitt, former governor of Utah and administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, will take the reins at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Some Democrats who supported Miss Rice yesterday said they did so reluctantly.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said he was not as enthusiastic about Miss Rice as he had been four years ago about Mr. Powell.

Although he supported Miss Rice’s nomination, he defended fellow Democrats who continued to prod Miss Rice to say the administration was wrong about its justification for war in Iraq and poorly prepared for its aftermath.

“The point was not playing the game of ‘gotcha.’ It was not about embarrassing the president. It was about learning from our mistakes so we don’t repeat them,” Mr. Biden said, adding that he hoped the senators who voted against her confirmation might prompt Miss Rice to be more candid in the future.

During the Senate floor debate this week, some Democrats accused Miss Rice of lying to them specifically. In particular, Sen. Mark Dayton, Minnesota Democrat, said she misled him, the entire Senate and the people of his home state of Minnesota.

But Mr. Bush dismissed the harsh criticism when asked about it at a press conference yesterday.

“Well, there are 99 senators other than that person. And [we’re] looking forward to working with as many members as we can,” he said.

“Condi Rice is a fine, fine public servant, greatly admired here in America and greatly admired around the world. And she will make a great secretary of state. And I’m looking forward to working with her,” he said.

Yesterday’s vote showed some surprising fault lines among Senate Democrats.

The two top Democrats split their votes, with Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada supporting her and Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois opposing her. In addition, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, was one of Miss Rice’s top supporters, even as fellow Californian Mrs. Boxer led the opposition.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer voted for Miss Rice, even though the New York Democrat also is the new chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which on Tuesday sent out a fund-raising letter from Mrs. Boxer touting her opposition to Miss Rice as a reason to donate money and support Democratic Senate candidates in 2006.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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