Obama’s options at State Department
Published: Thursday, November 29, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 29, 2012 23:11
President Barack Obama seems intent on destroying all chances he has to get the policy change he’s looking to get passed in his second term. He’s looking for big fights on filling cabinet positions instead.
The main fight he’s looking for is appointing current United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice to the position of secretary of state, replacing Hillary Clinton. Usually this would not be a very controversial nomination, but because of her involvement in the bungled response to the attack in Benghazi, she has a tough road ahead of her.
When Rice went on the Sunday shows five days after the attack, she propagated the now-discredited theory that it was not a terrorist attack, but a spontaneous protest against a recently released bigoted anti-Muslim video.
This is the heart of the problem in nominating Rice to head the State Department. Her confirmation hearings will become a platform for Republican senators to ask her what and when she knew about the motives behind the attack in Benghazi. Many have already pledged, including high profile senators like John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to do everything in their power to prevent Rice from being appointed to secretary of state.
The big question that arises is whether Secretary of State Rice is worth the huge fight that will cost Obama big in political capital. If he alienates people who he needs to support him on other major initiatives like immigration reform, his second term agenda won’t be able to get off the ground.
Obama does have an alternative that won’t cost him as dearly politically, and until recently it seemed that he would go with it. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts had long been considered the favorite to replace Clinton, and was even a very close second in being named to the position in Obama’s first term. He’s a veteran who has long served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including the last four years as chairman. He’s very qualified, but there is one big problem that President Obama and the Democrats see with nominating him: Sen. Scott Brown lost a hotly contested battle for re-election just a few weeks ago.
Brown would surely be looking to return to the Senate, and he’s still a widely popular Republican in Massachusetts. Massachusetts is a state in which “widely popular” and “Republican” only very rarely describe anyone who doesn’t play for the Red Sox.
Even if he doesn’t run, former congressional candidate Richard Tisei would be another top recruit for the Republicans. He lost by only one percent in a typically very Democratic district. He’d also be a favorite to win, and as an openly gay Republican could do quite a bit for the GOP’s demographic issues nationwide.
Of course, the Democrats currently have a 55-45 seat majority in the Senate, and losing one seat isn’t going to have a huge effect on anything. The stakes are much lower than they were when Brown first got elected in 2010 — when the Democrats lost a filibuster proof majority.
So President Obama has two options when it comes to secretary of state: nominate Rice and risk derailing his entire second term agenda, or nominate Kerry and risk losing a Senate seat which won’t have much of any effect on control of the Senate. I know who I’d choose if I were him.
Keene is a junior majoring in political science, economics and public policy.