Lowry to Newsmax: Rice Meeting Signals Stormy Confirmation Battle

Tuesday, 27 Nov 2012 07:43 PM

By Paul Scicchitano and John Bachman

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Tuesday’s meeting between U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and three of her most ardent GOP critics provides a window into the stormy Senate confirmation battle that lies ahead if President Barack Obama taps Rice to be his next secretary of state, National Review editor Rich Lowry tells Newsmax TV.

“Usually these sorts of meetings everyone comes out saying, ‘okay, well we may have some disagreements, but we understand each other better and some of our concerns are alleviated,’” observed Lowry in an exclusive interview on Tuesday. “Those three senators came out saying the exact opposite.”

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In a closed-door meeting that Rice requested, the ambassador answered questions from Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte about her much-maligned explanations about the cause of the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

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Lowry, a Newsmax contributor, insists that it would now be a mistake for Obama to nominate Rice based on her icy Capitol Hill reception.

“It seems clear you only do these meetings if you’re preparing to nominate her or you want to pave the way to nominating her,” said Lowry, explaining that such closed-door meetings are typically reserved for nominees. “That would be a big mistake on the part of President Obama just on this narrow Benghazi question, just because if she’s nominated, it lights a fire under the whole thing. She’s going to have to answer, presumably, very uncomfortable questions under oath.”

Lowry, nevertheless, suspects that Obama won’t be dissuaded. “If I’m in the White House calculating my political interests, I would not want to nominate her because I would want this thing to go away. But the president seems as though his back is up on this,” Lowry explained.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attack, Rice said the administration had been operating under the assumption that the attack was a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islamic video that ridiculed Islam's Prophet Muhammad and ignited mob protests on U.S. embassies around the Middle East and in North Africa.

While the Obama administration later begun to call it a terrorist attack carried out by al-Qaida-linked militants, Republicans have seized on the administration's changing narrative, saying the administration was too slow to label it a terrorist attack because, they said, the White House did not want to admit its policies had failed to defeat al-Qaida and quell anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world.

Lowry noted that the president bristled at the notion anyone would have challenged Rice’s comments.

“On top of all this, it just may be that he knows, likes her and considers her the best candidate for the job so he’s going to go with her no matter what,” predicted Lowry, who doesn’t have a preference between either Rice or Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who is also rumored to be on the short list to replace Hillary Clinton when she steps down as secretary.
“John Kerry has made a career of being wrong about almost every major foreign policy question facing our nation. I expect whoever it is to be a bad candidate, actually, and someone who I disagree with pretty fundamentally,” said Lowry, who gives a slight nod to Kerry between the two.

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“He would seem better suited for secretary of state just because he’s actually engaged in some diplomacy and, obviously, he’s a veteran with a military background but he seems better suited on the foreign affairs issues,” according to Lowry. “But if Rice goes to state, maybe Kerry will end up at defense.”

Lowry also rose to the defense of conservative activist Grover Norquist, who has been under increasing fire since the election for his anti-tax increase pledge that he has gotten Republican lawmakers to sign throughout the U.S. — from state capitols to Capitol Hill.

“They can’t stand Grover because he represents the anti-tax convictions of the Republican Party. If there weren’t a Grover Norquist someone would have to invent him,” said Lowry. “He just represents kind of the fundamental convictions of the party. This is a trickier situation than in the past because Republicans could technically abide by the pledge and do nothing — cut no deal with the president —and that will mean taxes will go up, all of the Bush tax cuts will expire. Taxes will go up on something like 98 percent of Americans in a massive way.”

He said he would not be surprised if lawmakers are unable to reach a deal with the president by Jan. 1 to avoid the fiscal cliff, even as a new CNN poll finds that most people would blame the GOP for such a failure as they have in the case of government shutdowns of the past.

“In this case, it might be a little different because people associate Democrats with tax increases more than Republicans. So it might be that they would tend to blame Democrats naturally more if taxes go up,” said Lowry. “The problem, though, is the president has the bully pulpit. The media hates Republicans. The image of the party is still very low so there’s a real risk that Republicans just get blamed no matter what for any bad thing that happens.”

He said that it is important for Republicans “to get a leg up on the blame game right away” and point out that a number of Democrats appear all too willing to allow the U.S. to go over the fiscal cliff.

“The House very rapidly — and may have to do this multiple times — should pass a bill extending all of the tax cuts for everyone and make it clear that Republicans do not want taxes to go up,” he said, noting that a failure to reach a deal will also damage President Obama’s reputation.

“The president really is going to want some sort of deal because one of the lessons he took away from the debt ceiling fight last time is that when there’s a poisonous contention in Washington, he can blame Republicans all he likes, and he certainly will do that, but it also hurts him and it hurts his image.”

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