After weeks of attacks on U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice as the possible nominee for the next secretary of state, Sen. John McCain admitted Sunday that Rice was "not the problem" in the White House's handling of the Sept. 11 attack in Libya.
McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, along with many other Republicans believe Rice intentionally misled the American people concerning what the government knew about the September 11 attacks at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
McCain said that during a round of TV appearances on Sept. 16, Rice described the Libya attack as a "spontaneous" act stemming from outrage over an anti-Islamic video in order to keep voters from questioning Obama's handling of national security in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 presidential election. She has denied that charge, and the White House subsequently acknowledged terrorists executed the attack.
According to CNN, on Wednesday, Rice explained she was relying "solely and squarely on the information provided to me by the intelligence community" when she made her initial remarks on the attack in Benghazi.
"I made clear that the information was preliminary," Rice told reporters outside the United Nations.
Obama said Rice made the appearance "at the request of the White House" and "gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her."
Still, amid speculation that Rice could be tapped to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, McCain launched a preemptive campaign to do "whatever is necessary" to block Rice from gaining Senate confirmation to become secretary of state. McCain put it this way, “Susan Rice should have known better and if she didn’t know better, she is not qualified.”
She's not the problem
Sunday, however, the Arizona Republican and Senate Armed Services Committee member struck a different tone.
"I think she deserves the ability and the opportunity to explain herself and her position," McCain, R-Ariz., told "Fox News Sunday." ''But she's not the problem. The problem is the president of the United States" who misled the public on terrorist involvement.
McCain's comments that Rice isn't the problem could bolster suspicions that the GOP intentionally chose to attack Rice over her Libya comments because they couldn't get to the real target: President Barack Obama.
"To batter this woman because they don't feel they have the ability to batter President Obama is something we the women are not going to stand by and watch," said Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis. "Their feckless and reckless speculation is unworthy of their offices as senators."
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), the newly tapped chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, has also suggested that racist and sexist sentiments are in play.
“It is a shame that any time anything goes wrong, they pick on women and minorities,” she has said in defending Rice.
Why the change
The subtle shift in McCain’s tenor on Rice could be the result of the message Rice had for McCain himself. "Let me be very clear. I have great respect for Sen. McCain and his service to our country," she said. "I do think that some of the statements he made about me have been unfounded, but I look forward to having the opportunity at the appropriate time to discuss all of this with him."
Fox believes the shift on Rice could be the result of internal grumblings on how far to take party opposition. Democrats picked up extra seats in the election to maintain their narrow majority, making it that much harder for the remaining 45 Republicans to block the president's nominees.
One senior GOP Senate aide said Sunday that Republicans hadn't united against Rice and were not convinced that she was worth going after.
"There's a definite sense within the caucus that you have to be conservative about where you put your firepower," said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly on internal GOP deliberations. "The question is whether the caucus is prepared to filibuster her, and I'm not sure we were."
But the Wall Street Journal reports that a senior Obama administration official said GOP lawmakers may be toning down their attacks on Rice, who is African-American, in part because the Republican Party is grappling with how to increase its appeal to minorities and women, given its failings in the recent election.