White House Rankled By Rice Delay

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
The White House is accusing Senate Democrats of "petty politics" for delaying Condoleezza Rice's confirmation as the next secretary of state.

Rice cleared a Senate committee on Wednesday, 16-2, and she was hoping to be sworn-in to her new post on Inauguration Day. But Democrats are putting off her confirmation vote until the middle of next week, citing the desire of some senators not on the Foreign Relations Committee to question her.

On Thursday, White House chief of staff Andrew Card told CBS News' The Early Show that "some people are practicing what I would call petty politics and that's unfortunate."

Still he said he has no doubt that "she will be confirmed and she should be confirmed quickly."

Meanwhile, two new members of Mr. Bush's Cabinet – Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings – were confirmed by the Senate Thursday.

Spellings and Johanns were approved on a voice vote hours after Mr. Bush took the oath of office.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, said Democrats would not seek to prevent Rice's confirmation, although several were expected to vote against her. The vote by the full Senate is expected next Wednesday, he said.

"There are a number of Democrats not on the [Foreign Relations] committee that want to have a chance to debate her nomination a couple of hours," said Manley.

At Wednesday's daylong hearing on Capitol Hill, Democrats pressed Rice on whether the administration's reasons for going to war were misleading.

She acknowledged that "there were some bad decisions" by the administration, but insisted that Saddam Hussein was a dictator who refused to account for weapons of mass destruction. And it was impossible to change the nature of a terror threat in the Middle East with him leading Iraq, she testified.

But Sen. Barbara Boxer would not be shaken off, even after Rice acknowledged "bad decisions."

She accused Rice of "an unwillingness to give Americans the full story because selling the war was so important to Dr. Rice. That was her job."

And now, Boxer said, the toll of American dead and wounded is the "direct result" of Bush administration "rigidness" and misstatements.

Sen. Joseph Biden, ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, challenged Rice to acknowledge administration mistakes on Iraq and said he would vote for her confirmation, but only with "some frustration and reservation."

The Delaware senator, zeroing in on U.S. policy in Iraq as he had during Tuesday's initial hearing, accused the administration of giving shifting reasons to justify the war to oust Saddam.

The Senate developments unfolded as the outgoing secretary of state, Colin Powell, bid farewell to the workers he called his "family" at the State Department. Powell has resigned but intends to remain on the job until Rice is sworn in to succeed him.

"You were my troops, you were America's troops," the former Army general told the workers. "You are the carriers of America's values."

He called Rice "a dear friend" and said she would bring "gifted leadership" to the department.