WASHINGTON – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday confirmed Condoleezza Rice (search) as the nation's next secretary of state, sending her name to the full Senate for approval — but Democrats say they want more time to consider the nomination.
"Rushing the nomination through the Senate would undermine the Constitutional responsibility that the Framers placed on Senators," read a statement issued by Tom Gavin, a spokesman for Sen. Robert Byrd (search), D-W.Va.
"For those reasons, Senator Byrd and others have asked the Senate Leaders to give the Senate a few days to analyze Dr. Rice's testimony and consider it fully before casting a vote for or against her confirmation as Secretary of State," said the statement.
Technically speaking, a Senate rule calls for a nomination to be on the Senate schedule for one full day before a vote, a measure that is routinely waived. In this case, Democrats are refusing to waive the rule, which will delay a vote in the full Senate until next week.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (search) had hoped to hold the full Senate vote Thursday when the Senate convenes at 3 p.m.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 16-2 to confirm Rice. Senators voting "nay" were Democrats Barbara Boxer of California and John Kerry of Massachusetts. The vote came after two days of tough questioning of Rice, who currently serves as President Bush's national security adviser.
Ranking Democrat Joe Biden of Delaware said that while he "could easily see how I would go that way," he would vote for her confirmation out of a sense of optimism and a recognition that they will have to work together.
If confirmed, Rice would become the first black woman to be the nation's top diplomat, replacing Colin Powell. Powell was delivering his farewell speech to State Department employees, who he called his "family," on Wednesday.
"You were my troops, you were America's troops," the former Army general said. "You are the carriers of America's values."
He called Rice "a dear friend" and said she would bring "gifted leadership" to the department.
Before the vote during a second day of Rice testimony, Biden said Wednesday during the hearing that the goal of Tuesday's line of questioning was "not to play 'I gotcha' or embarrass the president but [to find out] what we learned, what we'd do different [in Iraq] … or, given a different circumstance, which we may face" in Korea, Iran, or Syria.
"We're trying to get some insight into how a second term, a second chance, a second round, might be different — not because anyone else would have done it better, that Al Gore, had he been president, would have done it differently," Biden continued.
But instead of "seizing the opportunity" to describe how the administration has learned from the experience in Iraq, Biden said Rice, "danced around it, you stuck to the party line: You're always consistent, you're always right, you're never wrong ... I wish instead, you'd acknowledged the facts."
Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., meanwhile, urged Rice to consider reconciliation with Iran, which he said was about as repressive as China was when the Nixon administration approached Beijing for better relations.
But Rice said, "It is really hard to find common ground with a government that thinks Israel should be extinguished," supports terror groups and is undercutting U.S. peace efforts in the Middle East.
During a sometimes contentious first day of questioning Tuesday, Rice vowed to reach out to America's friends and allies around the globe in future policy decisions and said she would try to mend relations that were strained in the run-up to the war in Iraq.
In a daylong hearing, Rice heard praise and criticisms relating to her role in forming Iraq policy and advice on how to approach international relations challenges in the coming years.
"The time for diplomacy is now," Rice told members of the panel, adding, "if confirmed, I will work with members of Congress, from both sides of the aisle, to build a strong bipartisan consensus behind America's foreign policy. I will seek to strengthen our alliances, to support our friends, and to make the world safer, and better."
Rice answered some tough questions about her role combating terrorism and waging the war in Iraq.
"The fact is, relations with many of our oldest friends are, quite frankly, scraping the bottom right now and we need to heed the advice of the president of the United States just before his first inaugural when he talked about acting with humility as well as force," Biden said.
Biden also said he hopes "we can start leveling" on the realistic prospects for success in Iraq and wanted to know how Rice would deal with the North Korean nuclear situation, since, he said, "we seem to be sitting on the sidelines" there.
"Every nation that benefits from living on the right side of the freedom divide has an obligation to share freedom's blessings. Our first challenge, then, is to inspire the American people, and the people of all free nations, to unite in common cause to solve common problems," Rice said.
Rice to Rubber Stamp?
Rice said the United States faces "daunting tasks" in this day and age as it faces a "long-term struggle against an ideology of tyranny and terror, and against hatred and hopelessness."
She added that American diplomacy has three "great tasks":
— Unite the community of democracies in building an international system that is based on our shared values and the rule of law.
— Strengthen the community of democracies to fight the threats to the common security and alleviate the hopelessness that feeds terror.
— Spread freedom and democracy throughout the globe.
"That is the mission that President Bush has set for America in the world and the great mission of American diplomacy today," she said.
Some critics, however, say she will only rubber-stamp President Bush's views, rather than represent the views of U.S. diplomats, while others question her service as Bush's national security adviser during the last four years.
"I personally believe that your loyalty to the mission you were given overwhelmed your respect for the truth," Sen. Barbara Boxer (search), D-Calif., told Rice before the hearing.
On Wednesday, Boxer continued to barrage Rice with a myriad of the adviser's own statements made regarding Iraq over the past two years, and stressed how the senator thought Rice, who she said has been the "face of the administration," had helped the administration mislead the American public about the threat in Iraq.
"I find it so troubling that the Bush administration used the fear of terror to make the war against Iraq appear to be in response to 9/11," Boxer said. "Now I don't know one American who wants Saddam Hussein to see the light of day. I don't. So that's not the point," she continued, adding, "It's about candor, it's about telling the whole story."
She also criticized Rice and the administration for tying Al Qaeda to Iraq and for what she considered was a White House push for the idea that Al Qaeda and Saddam were in collaboration with each other — an idea Rice denied.
"I think we did say that there was never an issue of operational control, that Saddam Hussein has nothing to do with 9/11 as far as know or could tell," Rice replied. "It wasn't a question of operational lines. It was a question about an attitude about terrorism that allowed [Abu Musab al-Zarqawi] to be in Baghdad and operational in Baghdad."
On Iraq, Rice repeatedly has defended the administration's reasons for war, including the premise that Saddam possessed dangerous weapons of mass destruction and would use them or pass them to terrorists if he was not stopped. No such weapons have been found in two years.
Republican senators joined Democrats in asking Rice about the weapons discrepancy and about the adequacy of U.S. planning for the war and its aftermath. But she refused to be nailed down on a specific exit strategy for the United States.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., challenged Rice's claim that the right number of troops were in Iraq and criticized the administration's postwar policies, saying "you are going to be confirmed and everybody knows that ... I have reservations but they are not personal. But they do go to the story and trail of the next four years.
"It seems to me ... we went in to rescue Iraq from Saddam Hussein. Now I think we have to rescue our policy from ourselves," said the senator, who lost the presidential race against Bush last November, and mused that he was sort of happy to be back in the Senate.
"We do have some big tactical challenges to get to the strategic goals that we have," Rice replied. "This was never going to be easy. It was always going to have ups and down[s]. I'm sure we have made multiple decisions — some of which were good, some of which were not good, but the strategic decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein was a good one."
FOX News' Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.