Condoleezza Rice won confirmation as secretary of state Wednesday despite blistering criticism from Senate Democrats who accused her of misleading statements and said she must share the blame for mistakes and war deaths in Iraq.
The tally, though one-sided at 85-13, was still the largest “no” vote against any secretary of state nominee since 1825.
Rice was sworn-in seven hours later by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card in his West Wing office. Her designated replacement as national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, held the Bible. Bush planned to attend a ceremonial swearing-in Friday at the State Department.
Separately, a Senate committee narrowly voted to send Alberto Gonzales’ attorney general nomination to the full Senate. Jim Nicholson and Michael Leavitt won confirmation as the new secretaries of veterans affairs and health and human services, respectively, as President Bush’s second-term Cabinet fills out.
Rice, Bush’s national security adviser for four years and perhaps his closest adviser on the war and terrorism issues that dominated his first term, becomes the first black woman to be America’s top diplomat. She succeeds Colin Powell, a former Army general who clashed privately with some of the strongest hawks in Bush’s inner circle.
Although Rice’s nomination was never in doubt, Democrats mounted a lengthy and biting protest that showed she will not immediately match Powell’s collegial relationship with Capitol Hill.
Democratic senators denounced Rice’s job performance and truthfulness. Most criticism focused on Rice’s role planning for war and explaining the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Some accused her of avoiding accountability for the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Others said she seemed unwilling to acknowledge errors in planning or judgment.
“In the end, I could not excuse Dr. Rice’s repeated misstatements,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said of his vote against Rice.
Durbin said Powell had been “a voice of moderation,” and he expressed “hope that the responsibility of leadership will inspire Condoleezza Rice to follow his example.”
The 11 other Democrats who voted against Rice included some of the Senate’s best-known names, such as Massachusetts Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry, the unsuccessful candidate for president against Bush last year.
Independent Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont also voted no.
Thirty-two Democrats voted to confirm Rice, although several said they did so with reservations. Rice won support from all 53 Republicans who voted. Two Republican senators did not cast votes.
Through history, no nominee for secretary of state has been defeated in the Senate. Many have had little or no opposition and were confirmed without recorded votes. Only one, Henry Clay in 1825, received more recorded no votes than Rice, according to the Senate historian’s office. Clay was confirmed by a vote of 27-14.
More recently, Henry Kissinger was approved 78-7, Dean Acheson 83-6 and Alexander Haig 93-6.
As White House national security adviser, Rice was not directly answerable to Congress. That changes now that she is a member of Bush’s Cabinet who must testify before Congress and brief legislators in private. She will also have to ask Congress for the money to run the State Department.
“My own view is she is a forthright person,” Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said after the vote. Lugar chairs the Foreign Relations Committee that questioned Rice over two days of contentious confirmation hearings last week. He said that trust will come with time.
The Senate also:
- By voice vote confirmed Nicholson to be secretary of veterans affairs and Leavitt to be secretary of health and human services.
- Received the nomination of White House counsel Gonzales to replace John Ashcroft as attorney general. The Senate Judiciary Committee sent the nomination along on a 10-8 party line vote.
While all senators acknowledge that Gonzales will be confirmed, Democrats have said they will require several hours of debate before allowing a final vote. Democratic senators have accused Gonzales of helping formulate the policies that led to abuse of foreign prisoners.
The Senate is also expected to quickly confirm Samuel Bodman to be energy secretary, perhaps as soon as next week.
Rice spent part of the day Wednesday in her temporary office at the State Department, where she conducted strategy sessions on the upcoming Iraq elections and peace in Sudan. She also met briefly with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.
The State Department planned a welcome ceremony for Rice on Thursday and a swearing-in by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday. Bush was to attend Friday’s ceremony.
The 50-year-old former Stanford academic and expert on Russia faces a formidable foreign policy agenda, topped by the ongoing U.S.-led war in Iraq. She has pledged to try to promote negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Rice also inherits a fitful diplomatic effort to halt nuclear weapons development in North Korea and Iran. Bush has included those countries with Iraq in an “axis of evil.”
In addition to mending fences among Democrats on Capitol Hill, Rice will begin almost immediately to try to rebuild alliances in Europe and elsewhere that were damaged by international opposition to the Iraq invasion.
Bush’s first overseas trip of his second term will be a tour in Europe next month, and Rice is expected to accompany him. She is also expected to make a solo trip abroad sometime beforehand.