Wednesday, November 17, 2004

President Bush yesterday nominated his longtime confidante National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to become the first black woman to hold the office of secretary of state.

“I’m honored that she has agreed to serve in my Cabinet,” Mr. Bush told reporters in the Roosevelt Room, where he was joined by Miss Rice.

“The secretary of state is America’s face to the world,” he added. “And in Dr. Rice, the world will see the strength, the grace and the decency of our country.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Miss Rice will replace Colin L. Powell, who announced his resignation on Monday. She will be replaced by Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley, who has accepted his promotion. The resignation of Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, Mr. Powell’s top deputy, also was announced yesterday.

Miss Rice heaped praise on her boss as well as Mr. Powell as she accepted her nomination yesterday.

“I look forward, with the consent of the Senate, to pursuing your hopeful and ambitious agenda as secretary of state,” she told Mr. Bush. “And it is humbling to imagine succeeding my dear friend and mentor, Colin Powell.”

Miss Rice, who is more conservative than Mr. Powell, seemed mindful that some career bureaucrats in the State Department might not welcome her arrival. She extended a pre-emptive olive branch to both the Foreign Service and Civil Service employees by promising to be their advocate.

“In my 25 years of experience in foreign affairs, both in and out of government, I have come to know the men and women of the Department of State,” she said. “I have the utmost admiration and respect for their skill, their professionalism and their dedication.”

Knowing that Mr. Powell scored points with his employees by getting them new computers, Miss Rice signaled that a similar largesse was in the offing.

“One of my highest priorities as secretary will be to ensure that they have all the tools necessary to carry American diplomacy forward in the 21st century,” she said.

Some Democrats and pundits bemoaned the nomination of Miss Rice, who is fiercely loyal to Mr. Bush, and the departure of Mr. Powell, who they said provided a healthy voice of dissent in an otherwise sycophantic administration.

“That’s a very uninformed view of how this White House operates and how this president makes decisions,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. “He’s always someone who has welcomed a wide diversity of views from members of his team, and that is what he will continue to receive, I am sure, from his Cabinet in a second term.”

Rep. Robert Wexler, Florida Democrat, said Mr. Bush should have nominated someone more moderate, such as Sen. Richard G. Lugar or John C. Danforth, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

“The president could have reached out to the world, and been consistent to his own principles,” Mr. Wexler said on CNN’s “Crossfire.” “He could have taken old, seasoned hands in foreign policy to reassure the world.”

He added of Miss Rice: “We have a security adviser who was weak. She didn’t handle the conflicts between the agencies very well. We have a security adviser that has failed to tell the truth before the 9/11 commission.”

But Senate Democrats, even those who oppose the nomination, such as Sen. Jon Corzine of New Jersey, predicted that Miss Rice would be confirmed.

Mr. Corzine accused Miss Rice of standing with a “president and an administration that has chosen to end 50 years of bipartisan consensus on foreign policy — replacing it with an ideologically driven, go-it-alone approach.”

Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, said Miss Rice will get a positive reception from the Senate.

“I think it will be genuinely warm,” he told Fox News Channel. “The Congress knows her. The Senate has had innumerable briefings, most of them in a classified fashion, from her. She’s well known, she’s obviously capable.”

“The president won the right to have the secretary of state he wants,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat.

Republicans, as expected, lauded the selection of Miss Rice.

“Dr. Rice has been a steady and trusted confidante to the president,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican. “Dr. Rice possesses a rare combination of administrative experience, public policy expertise, high academic scholarship, and a gracious manner that will serve America’s interests well.”

Moderate Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican, said Miss Rice has earned “the trust and confidence not only of the president, but also the nation.”

Mr. Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he would expedite Miss Rice’s confirmation.

Still, the White House expects that Senate Democrats would use the hearing to grill her about faulty intelligence that was used to justify the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq last year.

“I’m sure there are going to be a lot of questions raised during the confirmation process,” Mr. McClellan said. “But certainly we hope that people will move forward in a spirit of working together so that we can move forward on the priorities that we share.”

For Mr. Bush, those priorities include aggressively prosecuting the global war against terrorism.

“Condoleezza Rice will take office at a critical time for our country,” he said. “We’re a nation at war; we’re leading a large coalition against a determined enemy; we’re putting in place new structures and institutions to confront outlaw regimes.”

Miss Rice also would take office in the wake of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Mr. Bush said Mr. Arafat’s demise is an opportunity for the United States to re-engage in the Middle East peace process, a task that will fall largely to Miss Rice.

“We’re pursuing a positive direction to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict,” he said. “Meeting all of these objectives will require wise and skillful leadership at the Department of State, and Condi Rice is the right person for that challenge.”

Miss Rice appeared to choke back tears when Mr. Bush recounted her rise to prominence from a childhood in the segregated South. He said her parents “would be filled with pride to see the daughter they raised in Birmingham, Alabama, chosen for the office first held by Thomas Jefferson.”

He added: “Something tells me, however, they would not be surprised.”

Mr. Bush also joked about Miss Rice’s devotion to professional football.

“Condi’s true ambition is beyond my power to grant — she would really like to be the commissioner of the National Football League,” he said. “I’m glad she’s put those plans on hold once again. The nation needs her.”

• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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