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Democrats on Rice fight: Bring it on

Democrats say despite today’s McCain-Graham-Ayotte press conference, they are ready and willing to fight for Amb. Susan Rice to be secretary of state.

“People are happy to fight for her,” a Democratic Senate aide said. In fact, the aide said, those that think what happened today gives Democrats any pause on Rice’s nomination, should think again.

"This is getting people’s back up,” the aide said. “The general sense of the mood is this is ridiculous. She’s obviously qualified. … No one on our side thinks there’s any substance whatsoever to the Republican criticisms.”

The aide added, “All signals are that [Obama’s] going to nominate her. Everybody’s sort of gearing up for that. It’s a battle, and I think we win because something else has to drop to fatally wound her [Rice]. This is not enough. It depends on how the hearings go.”

The aide also questioned whether Republicans besides McCain, Graham, and Ayotte would think this is a “smart fight to pick.” After all, it would be a “high profile fight with a qualified African-American woman.”

If Rice presents well at her confirmation hearing, if she’s nominated, and rebuts her critics, the aide said there’s a “good chance cooler heads prevail” and there would be more than enough votes to confirm her.

As to Sens. Kelly Ayotte’s and Lindsey Graham’s threats to place holds on a Rice nomination, the aide called that “moot,” because “either we have the votes or we don’t.”

On McCain-Graham-Ayotte’s press conference today, the aide said, “I was stunned. I thought the meeting was a face-saving way for everyone to back down. I was really surprised. It shows this has turned into a total vendetta for them.”

The aide added that “the larger question is if the president wants to spend the political capital.” And if he does, Democrats are ready to fight.

For those thinking Obama might instead avoid the fight and go with Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a likely shoo-in for confirmation, the aide noted that it’s well known that Majority Leader Harry Reid doesn't want to lose the potential vote.