Obama should fight GOP for Rice

Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte really want us to believe that their shameful behavior towards United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice is all about getting to the truth about what happened in Libya. The truth is that this is the first salvo in a GOP ward against President Barack Obama over the next four years.

Do they think Americans are dumb enough to believe that Rice, who had no responsibility over intelligence or approving security requests at the State Department, is the person to answer their queries over what happened in Benghazi that led to the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens?

These three continue to assert that Rice should have known better than to read talking points on several Sunday morning shows provided to her by the intelligence community, as well as provide an assessment that went outside of what she was told.

Is it fair that she be asked about those talking points? Of course. But to somehow try to pin the blame on her is downright offensive.

It has been amazing to watch the degree to which U.S. Senators don’t want to criticize Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has jurisdiction over the department. Yes, Clinton, not Rice, oversees U.S. ambassadors across the world, and it is her department that denied the security requests from Stevens.

If there is anyone who should be answering questions about security of our consulate in Libya, it’s Clinton. Instead, it has been all Rice, all day.

McCain, Graham and Ayotte want to know why the intelligence was botched, yet what do they do? They try to pin it on Rice as well. It has also been stunning to examine the degree to which Congressmen are afraid to utter the name, Gen. David Petraeus, as if vigorously questioning the assessment of the Central Intelligence Agency, which he ran before a sex scandal forced him to resign, is off limits.

If GOP senators are demanding intelligence answers, they should continue to haul leaders of various agencies down to Congress to testify under oath. Instead, they’ve made the calculation to turn Rice into their pi§ata, desperate to scuttle a potential secretary of state nomination.

Seeing Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins raise questions about Rice and the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa took the cake. Seriously? Are they now trying to pin those bombings on Rice? This has turned into a shameless, pathetic and embarrassing charade.

It’s President Obama’s turn to play hardball and make it clear that he won’t be pushed around concerning his appointees during his second term.

After Jan. 1, he should announce his appointment of the eminently qualified Rice as his secretary of state, and dare the U.S. Senate to deny the pick.

The president needs to send an unmistakable signal to the GOP that he wouldn’t be bullied. He forcefully defended Rice in a news conference a week ago and publicly thanked her at this week’s Cabinet meeting, but the ultimate sign of confidence — and strength — would mean foregoing the easy pick of Sen. John Kerry and daring them to stop Rice’s appointment.

President Obama shouldn’t be afraid to engage in a public battle with the GOP. To heck with the naysayers who claim Rice is damaged goods. What’s damaged is the logic of McCain, Graham, Ayotte and Collins, who look more foolish as the remarks about Rice drag on.

Barack Obama won. Mitt Romney lost. And before him, John McCain lost. Now it’s time for the president to make clear he has no plans to be an idle bystander in another attack on a member of his Cabinet.

Mr. President, the GOP is itching for a fight going into the New Year. Give it to them. And show them who is boss.

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Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN analyst.