WASHINGTON – Even though Condoleezza Rice's (search) confirmation as the nation's next secretary of state is not in doubt, Democratic senators used debate time Tuesday to pummel President Bush's Iraq war policy.
Sens. Robert C. Byrd (search) of West Virginia, Barbara Boxer (search) of California and several other Democrats lined up to get in their licks, even though some Democrats indicated they are going to vote Wednesday for Rice, currently the president's national security adviser.
Byrd, however, said Rice's record did not earn her elevation into the spot as the nation's top diplomat.
"[Rice's] record, I am afraid, is one of intimate involvement in a number of administration foreign policies which I strongly oppose. These policies have fostered enormous opposition — both at home and abroad — to the White House's view of America's place in the world," Byrd said in an hour-long speech.
"Her confirmation will most certainly be viewed as another endorsement of the administration's unconstitutional doctrine of pre-emptive war, its bullying policies of unilateralism, and its callous rejection of our long-standing allies," he added.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (search), D-Mass., criticized Rice as being involved in "the shameful decision by the administration to authorize the torture of detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Iraq.
"Dr. Rice was a key member of the national security team that developed and justified the rationale for war [in Iraq], and it's been a catastrophic failure, a continuing quagmire. In these circumstances, she should not be promoted to secretary of state," Kennedy said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
Republicans, by contrast, were rallying behind Rice — and the president — with briefer speeches. Nine hours were set aside for the debate, divided equally between the two parties.
"This is all a proxy to debate Bush foreign policy, [his] pre-emption doctrine, to debate what's taking place in Iraq — that's all this is about," Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback told FOX News before the debate began. "Rice is enormously qualified — the most qualified secretary of state we've ever had nominated."
He added: "She's going to do a tremendous job, she's going to get the vote ... this is all to scuff up the Bush foreign policy."
When Democrats Attack
Byrd and Boxer, opponents of the war from the outset, scheduled one-hour speeches. They consider the war a mistake and Bush's postwar strategy inadequate as determined insurgents take a rising toll on American soldiers. Boxer, along with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, also a Democrat, are the only two members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who last week voted against confirming Rice during that panel's vote to send the nomination to the full Senate.
But Kennedy, Byrd, Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Mark Dayton of Minnesota and Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, all said they would oppose Rice's confirmation.
Kennedy said Rice was a "principal architect and advocate" of going to war in Iraq even though Usama bin Laden was still at large, and charged that Rice was "plain wrong" when she wrote in a March 6, 2003, letter to Levin that the United States had briefed U.N. weapons inspectors "on every high- or medium-priority weapons of mass destruction, missile, and UAV-related site the U.S. intelligence community has identified."
"In fact, we had not done so. Dr. Rice was plain wrong," Kennedy said. "Had Dr. Rice and others in the administration acknowledged publicly that the U.S. had not shared all information, it might have changed the course of history. The rush to war might have been stopped. We would have stayed focused on the real threat, kept faith with our allies, and would be safer today."
Reed told FOX News that Rice's record raises too many unanswered questions.
"I've felt that there were serious questions raised during her tenure as national security adviser ... it's not just one incident, it's a collection of what she's done," he said.
Following up, Dayton accused the Bush administration of lying and said he was voting against Rice's confirmation as a way of trying to stop mistruths. Levin charged she concealed the CIA's skepticism that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium for a nuclear weapons program from Africa.
Rice claimed there was a "consensus" within the administration on Iraq's activity when the Department of Energy and the State Department had reservations. "She exaggerated and distorted the facts," Levin said.
Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., added, "We have a moral obligation to provide better leadership.
"Those in charge must be held accountable for mistakes," Bayh said, even while conceding that the administration was attempting to do the right thing in Iraq.
On the other hand, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas, agreed that while mistakes were made, it was wrong to rehash them. She lauded Rice for a "steady hand" in staying the course on the War on Terrorism.
"I think Condoleezza Rice is the most qualified person" for the job, she said.
Two Democrats, Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Ken Salazar of Colorado, spoke in Rice's favor.
On Wednesday, a brief series of statements by senators is expected, setting up the vote to put Rice in charge of U.S. diplomacy.
"We are talking about the safety and security of this country, so I very much and very quickly want to move with Secretary Rice," Senate Republican leader Bill Frist (search) of Tennessee said Tuesday. Frist said he was disappointed by the delay but was confident the Senate would confirm her on Wednesday.
Just Playing Politics?
Brownback said he doesn't think the Rice-jabbing is "healthy to do," since it may hurt America's image abroad. Instead, he suggested that Democrats could say, "'Look, we want a good discussion of Bush foreign policy, that's why we're slowing this down' ... because otherwise, I think a lot of other people around the world, they look at this and say, 'What's going on here? Why is this person being questioned and challenged on this?'"
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (search) of Nevada denied Republican suggestions that Democrats were 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 has to be reviewed with care, Reid and Sen. Joseph Biden (search), D-Del., said in a statement Friday.
The White House had been confident that Rice would be approved last week, and State Department officials were alerted to show up Friday morning to greet her with smiles and applause.
But Democratic critics insisted on an opportunity to air their views on the Senate floor.
Last week, White House chief of staff Andrew Card (search) said the Democrats' decision to have a day or more of debate on the nomination amounted 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."
Rice appeared not to be flummoxed by the daylong debate, meeting with Germany's foreign minister on Wednesday. In the meantime, Secretary of State Colin Powell, who gave his farewell speech at the State Department last week, 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 Sunday's inauguration in Kiev, Ukraine, of that former Soviet republic's Western-leaning president, Viktor Yushchenko.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.