President Barack Obama's choice as chief U.S. envoy for Europe told a Senate panel how she would prioritize trade and democracy. But that was not what some Republicans wanted to hear.
Much about the prospects for Victoria Nuland's confirmation turn on her answers on other subjects, including her former boss, ex-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and last year's deadly attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya. Republican Sen. Rand Paul, for one, says he wants to know more about the attack from Nuland, who served as Clinton's State Department spokeswoman.
Nuland's qualifications for the job are not in dispute. Clinton is a possible 2016 presidential candidate. So is Paul.
Leading Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have come out in favor of Nuland despite accusations by some in their party that she helped State Department superiorsused by the administration to inform Americans about the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
"There are many questions still unanswered," McCain told reporters Wednesday. He said he saw nothing wrong with how Nuland acted but he stillabout those who and those who ultimately signed off on the talking points.
It's unclear whether everyone shares that view.
Senator Bob Corker, the senior Republican on the committee, said he wouldn't raise the issue Thursday.
But Senator Ron Johnson, who had a heated exchange with Clinton at her final Senate hearing in January, said Thursday that an "awful lot" of questions "still remain about what happened following Benghazi."
He pressed Nuland on her role in the development of the talking points, but the nominee clarified that she had only a limited role in affecting the points in her capacity as a spokeswoman. "I was not in a policy role in this job, I was in a communications role," she explained. "My responsibilities were to ensure consistency of our public messaging, but not to make policy.
"I never edited these talking points, I never made changes," she added. "I simply said that I thought the policy people needed to look at them."
Nuland said the elements of the talking points that she flagged for further scrutiny represented only a partial explanation of the facts surrounding the attack in Benghazi, and she did not want to provide a "misleading" account to the public.
Republicans have focused on the administration's talking points since they were used by Susan Rice, then Obama's U.N. ambassador and now his national security adviser, for her public explanation five days after the attack. Rice blamed it on extremists hijacking a spontaneous protest against an anti-Islam video.
Nuland said she had not briefed Rice on the talking points, nor did she prep her for her public appearances after the attack. She added that she did not speak to then-Secretary Clinton about the talking points, either.
As officials rescinded Rice's account, someabout an act of terrorism in the heat of a presidential campaign. Nuland pushed back against that accusation.
"I don't recall the precise date that we moved to being confident it was a terrorist attack," she said, but "I think it was quite clear when the president made his first reference to terror that this is what we were dealing with."