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A Woman’s Place is in the ... State Department

220Px Susan Rice2 C Official State Dept Photo Portrait2 C 2009

The GOP is taking aim against the nomination of Susan Rice to head the State Department. Will the nation retreat from the precedent of women in this key post—for no good reason?

The ongoing firestorm over United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice’s possible nomination for secretary of state, to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton, is turning into the perfect storm of politics, gender and race. The furor is the latest example of the “Republican war on women,” which, in part, helped cost Mitt Romney the presidential election and led to a record number of women winning Congressional seats in November.

The campaign against Rice, led by GOP Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, has painted the UN ambassador as simultaneously too “aggressive” and not qualified enough. This age-old criticism of women in the workplace has no place in the Rice conversation. It is also, incidentally, an insult hurled at Clinton during her own nomination for State.

Opponents say Rice purposely “misled” the public in the days after the September 11 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, when she reported the assault resulted from spontaneous protests over an anti-Muhammad video. That early information turned out to be incorrect, and the Obama administration later confirmed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in a terrorist attack. Certainly the deaths were a tragedy, but as ambassador to the UN, Rice was not responsible for decisions made in Libya.

Subsequently, Republican Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Susan Collins of Maine have joined the GOP effort, perhaps to bolster what appears to be a group of old white men “ganging up” on an African-American woman, as Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker noted.

Republicans have yet to learn the lessons of their 2012 election defeat - that they need both women and minorities. Going after Rice, in such a public way, will only further alienate those voters.

Clinton, who has for the most part stayed out of the battle, praised Rice at a news conference last week in Dublin for her work at the UN. She echoed the administration’s explanation that the CIA intelligence coming out from Benghazi “evolved over time.”

“What Susan said had been based on the information that had been given to every senior official in our administration,” Clinton said. “She made it clear it was subject to change.”

That argument seems reasonable enough. So why have the Republicans continued their witch-hunt?

“Upon closer examination, however, the real reason may be less complicated,” writes columnist Parker. “She’s not a member of the most elite club in America, the U.S. Senate. Also, she appears to be President Obama’s first choice.”

President Barack Obama has not yet decided whether he will nominate Rice but he has vigorously defended her from the GOP attacks and warned them against blocking her confirmation. "When they go after the UN ambassador, apparently because they think she's an easy target, then they've got a problem with me,” Obama said.

Meanwhile, McCain has maintained “we will do whatever is necessary to block the nomination that's within our power.” Graham simply added "I don't trust her."

Their threat to filibuster Rice could be embarrassing for Obama and creates further complications for the administration beyond the latest budget battle.

Ironically, McCain and Graham have thrown their backing behind liberal Democrat Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Considered another front-runner for Secretary of State, some Democrats believe the attempt to block Rice and promote Kerry is the Republicans’ strategy to regain the Massachusetts Senate seat they lost in the last election, according to The Huffington Post.

"I don’t doubt that at all in terms of their motives," Democratic strategist Tad Devine told The Huffington Post. "I think they are trying to come down from 55 [Democrats] to get to 50 as fast as they can in the Senate."

Kerry has not yet said whether he wants the job.

If Rice is confirmed, she would be the latest in a recent string of Madam Secretaries that can be traced back to Madeleine Albright.

Albright made history in 1997 when she became the first female secretary of state. She served under Bill Clinton after being unanimously confirmed by the Senate in a 99 to 0 vote, something Rice could only dream of in the contentious atmosphere today. Albright's appointment opened the floodgates for women to a branch of government that was previously reserved for men. In the George W. Bush administration, another glass ceiling in government was shattered when Condoleezza Rice became the first African American secretary of state.

Looking back at the door she opened, Albright remarked, “My little saying is that there's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other. So I think there has to be the sense that once you have climbed the ladder of success, that you don't push it away from the building.”

By continuing to support Susan Rice, women can send a clear message to the GOP that they will not be intimidated by the threat of a tough confirmation battle nor will they allow the Republicans to set the agenda over the next four years.

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