President Obama said Wednesday that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice has been “extraordinary” as he sought to boost the embattled diplomat’s prospects on Capitol Hill, where she has been trying to smooth the way for a possible promotion to secretary of state but has stumbled in meetings with key Republican senators.
After a morning meeting with Mrs. Rice, Sen. Susan M. Collins, a Maine Republican and moderate who is considered a key swing vote, said she has too many unanswered questions about events surrounding the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, to back Mrs. Rice if she is nominated.
Sen. Bob Corker, who will become the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that would vet Mrs. Rice, refused to give his blessing. He said he would wait to see if Mr. Obama submits the nomination.
Asked about her prospects, Mr. Obama told reporters he still has faith in her.
Congress has been investigating what went wrong in the assault on the consulate and whether Mrs. Rice misled the country. The ambassador initially blamed the attack on spontaneous protests by Muslims angered by an anti-Islam video, rather than terrorists who had planned the military-style assault that the administration now acknowledges.
U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack, which occurred on the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
A vote for more security
In the first legislative action on the matter, the Senate voted Wednesday to push the administration to add Marine security forces to more diplomatic posts around the globe and to re-evaluate the rules of engagement. The legislation was attached to the annual defense policy bill, which the Senate began debating this week.
Under the amendment, adopted by voice vote, the Senate asked the Obama administration to study the security risks at U.S. diplomatic posts and determine which ones would benefit from having Marines in place.
Right now, of the 285 missions that the State Department operates, 126 of them have no Marine protection – including some in places where al Qaeda and its affiliates are increasingly active.
The amendment attempts to resist decisions made in the run-up to the attack on the consulate, where no Marines were stationed despite warnings of security threats in Benghazi.
“Would their presence have made a difference and saved the lives of our heroic ambassador and his security personnel?” said Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who sponsored the amendment. “I think I know the answer to that question and so do the American people.”
Mr. McCain said the rules of engagement for Marines also need updating, since they are prevented from taking action in some cases.