Monday, January 17, 2005

Condoleezza Rice is expected to face tough questions today about President Bush’s policy in Iraq and intelligence leading up to the September 11 attacks at her confirmation hearing to be secretary of state.

But both Democrats and Republicans expect that Miss Rice, the current national security adviser, will gain quick approval from the Foreign Relations Committee and the full Senate.

“She’ll have to answer questions about her role in pre-Iraq war intelligence, the intelligence leading up to 9/11 and her overall management at [the National Security Council], which some have called dysfunctional,” one senior Democratic aide said on the condition of anonymity.

But the aide said no groundswell of opposition exists among Democrats, and members of both parties say that barring a huge gaffe at the hearing, Miss Rice will be confirmed swiftly.

“I suspect she’ll eventually be confirmed, as early as Thursday afternoon, after the president is inaugurated,” the aide said.

Miss Rice has the backing of such Democrats as Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who will introduce the former Stanford University provost at the hearing.

Mrs. Feinstein said last week that Miss Rice “has the skill, judgment and poise to lead in these difficult times.”

But one of her chief questioners will be California’s other senator, Barbara Boxer, also a Democrat, who, unlike Mrs. Feinstein, is a member of the committee. She is expected to push Miss Rice to answer whether she misled Americans in the run-up to the war.

“As a major proponent and spokesperson for the war in Iraq, and as someone who was asked by the president to make the case for this war to the American people, and as the person in charge of the reconstruction effort — you have many questions to answer to the American people,” Mrs. Boxer will tell Miss Rice, according to prepared opening remarks the senator has released.

“I personally believe that your loyalty to the mission you were given overwhelmed your respect for the truth,” Mrs. Boxer is expected to say.

The senator has not said which way she will vote on the confirmation.

As a presidential adviser, Miss Rice has never faced a congressional hearing, but she did testify in the summer before the September 11 commission.

The Rice testimony was televised nationally and featured pointed questions about why the administration had not done more to prevent terrorist attacks.

Republicans said they expect Miss Rice will use the hearing today to explain her goals for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, her broader initiatives for democracy in the Middle East and how she plans to run the day-to-day operations of the State Department.

If the 19 senators on the committee have enough questions, Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, has said he is ready to expand the hearing into tomorrow. He intends to call for a committee vote as soon as the hearing ends.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, plans a full Senate vote on confirmation Thursday, after the inauguration.

The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, sent a list of eight questions it thinks Miss Rice must answer today.

One question asks her to choose between supporting the policy for treatment of detainees put forth by White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, who has been nominated to be attorney general, or current Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s dissenting views on the matter.

In another question, the center asks her to explain why money appropriated for rebuilding Iraq has not yet been spent.

“Only $2.2 billion of the $18 billion in funds allocated for the reconstruction of Iraq have been distributed. Explain why the funds are not being used, and why Congress should feel compelled to sign off on another $100 billion supplemental” the question reads.

In addition to Mrs. Boxer, Miss Rice is bound to face probing questions from Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and his party’s 2004 presidential nominee.

Mr. Kerry also has not said which way he will vote on Miss Rice’s nomination, but he just returned from a two-week overseas fact-finding trip.

Democrats won’t be the only ones asking pointed questions, and the topic won’t be limited to Iraq and intelligence failures.

Mr. Lugar has submitted written questions for Miss Rice to answer, including some about how the Bush administration plans to pursue a program he sponsored with Sen. Sam Nunn, Georgia Democrat. The program seeks to contain nuclear materials, particularly from the arsenal of the former Soviet Union.

“The hearing will be comprehensive, but positively conclusive,” said Andy Fisher, a spokesman for Mr. Lugar.

The expected ease of Miss Rice’s confirmation contrasts with that of Mr. Gonzales, nominated to lead the Justice Department.

Mr. Gonzales is facing strong opposition from Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, who submitted about 200 written questions for the nominee to answer after his hearing before the panel earlier this month, and several senators are lining up against him.

“I’m leaning against him at the time,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said this weekend on CBS’ “Face the Nation” program. “I’m waiting for his responses to the additional questions that I have provided. I wasn’t satisfied with his responses before the Judiciary Committee.”

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

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