Published December 14, 2012
It didn't take long for NBC's Andrea Mitchell to turn Susan Rice's withdrawal from the secretary of state-stakes into a racial issue.
Asked for her analysis on MSNBC's "The Cycle," Mitchell swiftly claimed that Rice's withdrawal would be bad for Republicans because she is a black woman -- intimating that her skin color and gender were somehow a factor.
"I think that this had become sort of an impossible challenge for her to be confirmed, that she realized that -- the White House realized it as well. I think they know that they are on good political solid ground," Mitchell said. "This is not going to ... help Republicans at all, the fact that a woman and a woman of color has been forced out of a confirmation process even before she was nominated."
Never mind that the first black female secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, was nominated by a Republican, George W. Bush. In fact, both parties can lay substantial claim to diversifying the nominee pool for that post. Under Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright became the first female secretary of state. Under Bush, Colin Powell became the first black secretary of state, only to be succeeded by Rice.
Republican opposition this year to the possibility of a Rice nomination was rooted in complaints about her Sept. 16 comments on the Libya terror attack, in which she claimed the strike was the result of a "spontaneous" demonstration spun out of control.
Despite the diversity of recent secretaries of state under both parties, Mitchell is hardly the first to suggest that opposition to Rice was rooted in racial reservations. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., earlier this year said those calling Rice incompetent were using "code words" that people who grew up in the South are familiar with.
Brad Blakeman, Republican strategist and former adviser to George W. Bush, called the racial claims "ridiculous."
"It's easy for the Democrats. ... It's as old as their class warfare argument," he said. "The problem is time has passed by their argument."
Pointing to diverse appointments under the Bush and other administrations, Blakeman said: "Republicans have been as diverse or more diverse than the Democrats themselves."
Susan Rice, for her part, cited Republican opposition to her possible nomination. She said she did not want to subject the Obama administration to a "lengthy, disruptive and costly" confirmation process.
Mitchell said Thursday that she thinks Rice was Obama's choice, but that course "became untenable."
"The critics began to look through all sorts of other aspects of her background, her finances, the kinds of things that would normally come out in a confirmation -- but she didn't have the defense, the group around her that you would have if you were the nominee from the White House if you had been vetted and had that whole array of defenses. She was on her own, really, and left hanging," she said.