WASHINGTON – Condoleezza Rice (search) is no longer on a fast track to Senate confirmation as secretary of state, but the slowdown appears to be temporary as Democratic foes of the war in Iraq line up to have their say.
Nine hours have been set aside Tuesday for debate, divided equally between Democrats and Republicans. On Wednesday, a brief series of statements is expected -- and then the vote to put her in charge of U.S. diplomacy.
President Bush's decision to go to war with Iraq (search) in March 2003 and postwar violence that is taking a rising toll of U.S. casualties are the main causes of the slowdown. Rice was supposed to be confirmed last week, but Democratic critics insisted on an opportunity to air their views on the Senate floor.
Two Democratic opponents of the war, Sens. Robert C. Byrd (search) of West Virginia and Barbara Boxer (search) of California, have booked an hour each to speak, with eight other Democrats due to weigh in with briefer speeches.
On the Republican side, Sen. Richard Lugar (search) of Indiana, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee that recommend confirmation 16-2 last week, will manage the Republican side.
Republican statements are likely to be briefer than those of the Democrats and may not consume the 4 1/2 hours allotted to the GOP side.
Last week, White House chief of staff Andrew Card said the Democrats' decision to have a day or more of debate on the nomination amounts to "petty politics."
"She certainly is qualified and ready to be the secretary of state," Card said. "We're anxious to have her there, and there's not a doubt in my mind that she will be confirmed and she should be confirmed quickly."
In the meantime, Secretary of State Colin Powell (search), who made a farewell speech at the State Department on Wednesday, remains on the job.
Powell has shuttled between his home in McLean, Va., and his seventh-floor office while Undersecretary Marc Grossman, who also has submitted his resignation, takes care of day-to-day matters.
Powell represented the United States at the inauguration Sunday in Kiev of Ukraine's Western-leaning president, Viktor Yushchenko.
During two days of sometimes testy hearings last week, Rice acknowledged some bad decisions had been taken by the administration and that desertions and poor leadership were hampering Iraqi security.
At the same time, she bristled at accusations by Boxer that she had constantly shifted grounds on why it was right to invade Iraq to depose President Saddam Hussein.
As Bush's assistant for national security, Rice channeled intelligence to the president -- including intelligence that turned out to be in error in contending Saddam had hidden arsenals of chemical and biological weapons.
Also, her contention that Iraq was trying to develop nuclear weapons has become debatable.
"Condoleezza Rice may have been in the chair, but some may have seen President George Bush sitting there, so there was a face-to-face confrontation, some important questions," Lugar said Sunday on a cable news show.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada denied Republicans' suggestions that Democrats are playing politics with Rice's nomination.
Rice is a chief architect of Bush administration policies in Iraq and in the overall fight against terrorism, and her record should be reviewed with care, Reid and Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said in a statement Friday.
"To suggest that the Senate should not have any debate about Ms. Rice's performance and the future direction of American foreign policy shows not only a high level of arrogance on behalf of some Republicans, but also a blatant disregard for our constitutional responsibilities," the Democrats said.
Biden was one of Rice's most persistent questioners during the hearings but voted to confirm her on the grounds presidents are entitled to pick their cabinets. That view may contribute to one-sided Senate approval, even among Democrats.