Friday, November 23, 2012

“Is this seat open?”

Room at the President’s Table

 It’s been a very busy month for America, no doubt.  What, with elections, sudden sex-scandals, and (as ever) sustained instability in the Middle East it seems as though pundits and reporters scarcely have time to breathe between headlines of constant crises and breaking news.

All other things aside, the election at the beginning of the month (though it seems much longer ago) reaffirmed a second term for Barack Obama (as we’re all hopefully aware) and signaled the end of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State. So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, this post is designated to consideration concerning the soon-to-be vacated seats at the president's table. 

President Lincoln and his Cabinet at the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation
(P.S.: everyone, please go see Lincoln. Please.)
Photo credit:

Secretary Clinton, of course, is not the only cabinet member to throw in the towel at the end of Obama’s first term.  This isn't unusual; many cabinet members in many administrations (both successful and dismal failures) tender their resignation at the end of their president’s first term. Other positions that might be up for grabs include the Attorney General , the Treasury Secretary, and the Secretary of Defense. These posts are currently held by Eric Holder, Timothy Geithner, and Leon Panetta respectively.   The possibility of a replacement in each post merits lengthy conversation of its own, so I’d like to focus my discussion on that of the Secretary of State—which is what we all want to know anyway.

Now for a quick civics lesson. For those of you that know the Constitution as exhaustively as I do, you’re well aware that within that document there is no explicit definition of the term “Cabinet” to be found, though there is certainly mention of it. Much information about the cabinet found in the Constitution is located in ArticleII, Section II, Clauses I & II. Clause II, specifically, notes that the:
 “[the President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassador, other public Ministers and Consuls…and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law”
—a definition under which cabinet members (or the “principal Officer in each of the executive Departments”) fall.

So, in short, the President nominates the cabinet candidate and the Senate either approves or disapproves of the choice—a political reality of which we were hopefully well aware.

Taking this under consideration, it may be somewhat surprising that this week a group of some 97 House Republicans (note: House, not Senate) sent a letter Obama’s way –challenging his potential nomination of current U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for Hillary Clinton’s job.  Or it may not be surprising at all. Nevertheless, the letter continues along the same theme that contentions regarding Ambassador Rice's potential nomination have thus far.  Which is that Rice willfully led Americans astray in regards to the real nature of the September 11 attack on the embassy at Benghazi, which led to the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. 

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. 
Photo credit:

According to the letter (a great read, I encourage you all to take a look and maybe grab some popcorn to fully enjoy the show), the representatives in question believed that Ambassador Rice "propagated a falsehood" and is "widely viewed as having either willfully or incompetently misled the American public in the Benghazi matter." Due to these indiscretions, the undersigned asserted that Ambassador Rice's "actions plausibly give U.S. allies (and rivals) abroad reason to question U.S. commitment and credibility when needed." They go on to argue that any efforts to appoint Ambassador Rice to the position of Secretary of State would "greatly undermine [the President's] desire to improve U.S. relations with the world and continue to build trust with the American people."

We've known for some time (really, since the immediate aftermath of Benghazi) that selecting Ambassador Rice as Secretary of State nominee for Obama's second term would spark an almighty row.  The November 17th 2012 issue of the Economist described her as the "main voice in the administration" that described the Benghazi attack, mistakenly, as "an act of mob violence, rather than terrorism." Republicans, as indicated by the above letter, have latched onto this incident and are using it to spearhead efforts to keep Rice out of this position.

The reasons for their disapproval, as so succinctly expressed in the letter to Obama, are slightly ludicrous.  As the hearings on Benghazi revealed, Rice's information came from the unclassified "talking points" drawn up by the U.S. intelligence community, and that it wasn't nearly as far off the mark as some like to claim. Furthermore, the accusation that Rice willfully mislead the American people is more than unlikely and suggestions of her incompetence are downright insulting, especially considering her experience.  As a Washington Post editorial claims, "whatever her failings, [she] is no one's fool." From there, the editorial questions whether disapproval of Ambassador Rice may be because she's black--and points out that over 80 signatures on the letters are from Congressmen who reside in states of the former Confederacy. Ouch. 

President Obama, though he has not indicated whether or not he plans to nominate Rice, has ardently defended the Ambassador in the face of such criticism, declaring complaints against her as "outrageous." Ambassador Rice certainly appears to be more than qualified for the job, and America of late appears to love minority and female Secretary of States.  Despite what House Republicans may suggest, her statements and actions have not destroyed the credibility of the United States Government at home and abroad.  She has not surrendered any potential advantage to American enemies. 

Perhaps, Republicans are so opposed to Rice because they are so in favor of Senator Kerry being nominated to Hillary Clinton's current gig. Kerry would breeze through Senatorial approval (whether he was nominated for Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense). and Republicans would vote for him at least in part because they have Scott Brown (young and recently defeated, but popular Massachusetts junior senator) waiting on the sidelines for the subsequent by-election to fill Kerry's vacated seat. 

Whoever is nominated and however the Senate chooses to Advise and Consent, it'll be interesting to watch and see who takes the seats left behind by the current cabinet. And if Rice is nominated, some foresee difficulty in attaining Senate confirmation. So, class--for discussion: who do you see appointed to the big positions? What challenges might they face in  seeking Senate confirmation? What would the repercussions of their nomination and subsequent appointments be--especially in terms of maintaining the current balance of power in Congress? And, of course, what would their nominations mean for American foreign policy and security on an international level?

No comments: