WASHINGTON (AP) — Condoleezza Rice won confirmation as secretary of state yesterday 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.
Separately, a Senate committee narrowly voted to send Alberto Gonzales’ attorney general nomination to the full Senate. And 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 began to fill 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 Mass. Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry, the unsuccessful candidate for president against Bush last year.
Independent Sen. James 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.