Democrats Lambaste Rice

Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice testifies Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2005, on Capitol Hill during her Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing in Washington. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
AP
Senate Democrats said Tuesday that Condoleezza Rice lied to them, misled Americans about the Iraq war or served as an apologist for Bush administration failures in Iraq, but she remained on track for confirmation as secretary of state.

Rice, who has been President Bush's national security adviser for four years, was one of the loudest voices urging war, Democrats said. She repeatedly deceived members of Congress and Americans at large about justifications for the war, said Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn.

"I don't like impugning anyone's integrity, but I really don't like being lied to," Dayton said in opposing Rice's nomination on the Senate floor. "Repeatedly, flagrantly, intentionally."

Rice is expected to win confirmation on Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., predicted that Rice would have "an overwhelming majority" of votes.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., cautioned against "inflammatory rhetoric that is designed merely to create partisan advantage or to settle partisan scores."

Rice would succeed Colin Powell, who often found himself on the outside looking in with Bush's close circle of war and national security advisers.

By contrast, Rice is a trusted Bush loyalist. As a principal architect of the Iraq invasion and the administration's war on terrorism, she shares blame for overstating the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, Democrats said.

Dayton accused Rice and other Bush administration officials of "lying to Congress, lying to our committees, lying to the American people."

Politicians rarely use the word "lie," preferring some of the milder terms other Democrats used Tuesday.

Despite the spirited debate, CBS News Correspondent Bob Fuss reports Rice will likely be overwhelmingly confirmed to replace Colin Powell as secretary of state when the vote is held on Wednesday.

On what was shaping up as a long day for the nominee and the president who promoted her to chief U.S. diplomat, Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., said "we have a moral obligation to provide better leadership."

"Those in charge must be held accountable for mistakes," Bayh said, even while saying the administration was attempting to do the right thing in Iraq.

On the other hand, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Tex., 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.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia was among the other Democrats who lined up to get their licks in Tuesday, even though many Democrats may wind up in Rice's column when the vote is taken.

Byrd, the senior member of the Senate, said Mr. Bush with Rice's help steered the country into an unprovoked and unjustified war based on false information that Iraq was a training ground for terrorists.

"Dr. Rice is responsible for some of the most overblown rhetoric that the administration used to scare the American people into believing that there was an imminent threat from Iraq," Byrd said.

Two Democrats, Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Ken Salazar of Colorado, spoke in Rice's favor before the Senate took a luncheon recess.

Republicans rallied behind Rice — and President Bush — with briefer speeches. Nine hours have been set aside for the debate, divided equally between the two parties.

"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 of Tennessee said Tuesday. Frist said he was disappointed by the delay and was confident the Senate would confirm her on Wednesday.

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.

During two days of sometimes testy hearings last week, Rice acknowledged some bad decisions on Iraq by the Bush administration and that desertions and poor leadership within Iraqi security forces were hampering the country's defense.

Last week, White House chief of staff Andrew Card said the Democrats' decision to have more 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."

In the meantime, Secretary Powell, who gave his a farewell speech at the State Department on Wednesday, remains on the job.