WASHINGTON - The top Republican to oppose a nomination of Susan Rice as secretary of state softened his opposition and said Sunday he is open to hearing her explain why she declared the burning of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was part of a protest rather than a terrorist attack.
"I'd give everyone the benefit of explaining their position and the actions that they took," Arizona Sen. John McCain said on "Fox News Sunday." "I'd be glad to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with her."
Also Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a critic of how the administration handled fallout from the Benghazi attack, said President Obama, more than Rice, is responsible for her TV comments claiming the Sept. 11 Libyan attack was a spontaneous eruption from protesters angry over an anti-Islam video. "I blame the president above all others," Graham said on ABC's "This Week."
But if Obama sends Rice's nomination to the Senate for confirmation as secretary of state, Graham said, "There will be a lot of questions asked of her about this event and others."
Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been highly praised by Obama, and his White House has signaled that he is considering her to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Rice appeared on several Sunday talk shows after the consulate attack and said that the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were prompted by the video. Republicans immediately suggested the administration was trying to cover up the incident in the weeks before the presidential election.
Last week, Rice said she had relied "solely and squarely" on preliminary information provided by U.S. intelligence officials.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut who caucuses with Democrats, said Rice should be allowed to explain herself further before being summarily rejected by the Senate. "I think we ought to find out before we decide on whether she's a good or bad public servant," Lieberman said on CNN's "State of the Union."
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate majority whip, criticized Republicans for condemning Rice before first hearing her out. "If this were a football game, the critics of Ambassador Rice would be penalized for piling on."
Graham shot back: "This is about four dead Americans. This is about a national security failure."
On the House side, Rep. Peter King of New York, the Republican chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, both praised and criticized Rice. "I think Susan Rice has done an effective job as U.N. ambassador, especially on issues such as North Korea," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "But on this, she is wrong."
He charged that "she knew that the story she was giving out was not entirely true" and said she should have evaluated the intelligence or asked for a better assessment.