published Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Isakson defends Obama's security adviser pick, Susan Rice


by Chris Carroll
United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, President Barack Obama's choice to become National Security Adviser, speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, June 5, 2013, where the president made the announcement.
United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, President Barack Obama's choice to become National Security Adviser, speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, June 5, 2013, where the president made the announcement.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's nomination of Susan Rice as his new national security adviser Wednesday provoked a new of chorus of Republican outrage over the September attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

But two area Republican senators weren't singing in the choir.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker had a phone conversation spoke with Rice, the United Nations ambassador, who has served as the GOP's punching bag since September's attacks in Benghazi.

Corker said in a statement the two "had a very good conversation" about Obama's decision.

Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pledged to work with Rice on "shaping important foreign policy and national security issues."

A few hours after Corker's chat with Rice, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., issued a statement that defended Rice, calling her a "scapegoat" for the Obama administration's missteps in Benghazi.

"She's a competent, experienced individual," Isakson said.

The duo's apparent willingness to break bread with Rice stood in stark contrast to the way Republicans jeered her throughout the 2012 presidential election campaign, during her brief bid to be secretary of State and even Wednesday, hours after news broke of her new job.

"I really question the president's judgment in promoting someone who was complicit to misleading the American public," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, told Fox News on Wednesday.

Rice will replace Thomas Donilon, who is set to leave the post in July. The position does not require Senate confirmation.

Conservatives pounced on Rice after her comments following last year's attacks on a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Appearing on television after the incident, she relied on CIA-supplied talking points to say that the violence seemed "spontaneous" according to the available evidence.

The administration later said the incident was a terrorist attack. Paul, Sen. John McCain and other Republicans have said Rice was trying to give Obama political cover as the president emphasized his anti-terrorism accomplishments during his re-election bid. Isakson disagreed

"I have said from the beginning that I think she was a scapegoat in the Benghazi tragedy," the Georgian said. " ... The fault lies with the people that gave her the information."

Several local senators decided to stay out of Wednesday's fray altogether. Sens. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., did not respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said he was unavailable.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., did not mention Rice in a statement that said he hoped Congress and the White House can protect America with strategy "that the American people can trust."

Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at ccarroll@timesfreepress.com or 423-280-2025.

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