Rice Vote Likely Later This Week

Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice responds to questions during the second day of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2005. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
AP
Condoleezza Rice 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.

"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. He said he was disappointed by the delay and was confident the Senate would confirm her on Wednesday.

President Bush's decision to go to war with Iraq 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 of West Virginia and Barbara Boxer 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 of Indiana, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee that recommended confirmation 16-2 last week, will speak and bring other Republican senators to the floor.

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 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 of State Colin Powell, 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 Mr. 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 CNN's "Late Edition."

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada denied Republicans' 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 should be reviewed with care, Reid and Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said in a statement Friday.