US United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria, August 30, 2012 at United Nations Headquarters in New York. (Getty Images)
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's possible choice of United Nations envoy Susan Rice to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared to be in greater jeopardy Wednesday after a key Republican senator broadened the scope of questions about her record.
Rice went to Capitol Hill for a second consecutive day of meetings with skeptical GOP senators, meeting on Wednesday with Maine Republican Susan Collins.
In comments to reporters Wednesday after meeting with Rice, Collins expanded the criticism of Rice to include her potential role in protecting the American embassies in Kenya and Somalia that were hit by al Qaida attacks in 1998, when Rice served as assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
Collins said she was "very troubled by the fact that we seem not to have learned from the 1998 bombings of two of our embassies in Africa at the time when Ambassador Rice was the assistant secretary for African affairs. Those bombings in 1998 resulted in the loss of life of 12 Americans as well as many other foreign nationals."
She said, "What troubles me so much is the Benghazi attack in many ways echoes the attacks on those embassies in 1998, when Susan Rice was head of the African region for our State Department. In both cases the ambassadors begged for additional security" but she said, as with the Sept 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, those requests were turned down by the State Department.
Collins said that Rice told her "she would have to refresh her memory" of the 1998 events and that she was not directly involved in turning down the request for embassy security in 1998, "but surely given her position as the assistant secretary for African affairs, she had to be aware of the general threat assessment and of the ambassadors' repeated requests for more security."
Collins said that before she could support Rice's nomination, "I would need to have additional information."
At least three Republican senators, John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire have said they'd oppose Rice if Obama nominates her but the comments from Collins appeared to indicate growing skepticism in Republican ranks.
She said, "there's much yet to be learned" about the Benghazi attack. "So I think it would be premature for me" to announce support for Rice as potential secretary of state.
Collins also criticized Rice for not qualifying her statements on Sunday TV talk shows five days after the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods, and Sean Smith, were killed.
When a reporter asked Collins about Sen. John Kerry, D- Mass., as a potential secretary of state, she replied, "I think John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues."
This comment added to the apparent GOP support for Kerry. On Tuesday McCain told Fox News, "John Kerry came within a whisker of being president of the United States. I think works in his favor (as a nominee to be secretary of state). But I would love to hear him make the case. But I don't have anything in his background like this tragedy in Benghazi that would make me really want to carefully examine the whole situation."
Rice also met Wednesday with Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who is slated to become the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and thus would have a key role in the confirmation hearing for a secretary of state nominee.
Corker said Tuesday, "When I hear Susan (Rice) talk, she sounds to me like she'd be a great head of the Democratic National Committee. There's nobody who's more staff supportive of everything the administration does. That concerns me in a Secretary of State."
He added, "You want a Secretary of State who obviously works with the administration but also shows the ability to be independent, and I'm not sure I see that second part."
For a nomination that hasn't yet happened and may not happen at all, the potential Rice nomination is generating enormous political heat and noise. That's partly because it's shaping up as a nose-to-nose test of Obama's presidential clout and credibility in the aftermath of his Nov. 6 victory.