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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Rice moves closer to confirmation

 Condoleezza Rice responds to questions during the second day of her confirmation hearing Wednesday.  
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Warren P. Strobel Knight Ridder

WASHINGTON – Condoleezza Rice moved closer to becoming the nation’s first African American female secretary of state on Wednesday, as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 16-2 to approve her to succeed Colin Powell.

Rice is virtually assured approval by the full Senate, but a handful of Democrats announced plans for debate that appeared likely to delay a vote that had been scheduled for today following President Bush’s midday inauguration. Final Senate action could be postponed until next Tuesday.

Rice, 50, Bush’s national security adviser and a former Stanford University provost, would become the nation’s 66th secretary of state. She will be the second African American, after Powell, and the second woman, after Madeleine Albright, President Clinton’s secretary of state, to hold the post.

Powell gave an emotional farewell speech to cheering department employees Wednesday morning, shortly before the Senate committee voted to approve Rice.

In more than 10 hours of hearings over two days, Rice laid out plans for an ambitious second-term Bush foreign policy.

She pledged to revive U.S. alliances overseas, focus on relations with other major powers, devote personal attention to Middle East peace and reform U.S. public diplomacy.

She also promised to fight for more resources for U.S. foreign policy despite tight federal budgets, continuing a rebuilding process begun by Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage.

Democrats on the panel, occasionally joined by several Republicans, used the hearings to register sharp objections to U.S. policy in Iraq and the Bush team’s depiction of the threat from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein before the war.

Several also criticized what they said was Rice’s reluctance to admit mistakes and pugnacious attitude toward vexing nations such as Iran and Venezuela.

“I’m going to vote for you, but I must tell you it’s with a little bit of frustration and some reservation,” the panel’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, told Rice in one exchange.

“You sort of stuck to the party line, which seems pretty consistent: You’re always right. You all never made any mistakes. You’re never wrong. And it’s almost like if I acknowledge any … misjudgments on the part of me or the president or anyone in the team, it’s a sign of weakness,” Biden said.

Rice acknowledged problems with the post-war reconstruction effort in Iraq. “We didn’t have the right skills, the right capacity to deal with a reconstruction effort of this kind,” she said.

But she said history would render the ultimate judgment of Bush’s decisions on Iraq.

Two Democrats – former presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. – voted against her nomination.

The handful of Democrats who plan to delay the Senate vote said they wanted more time to analyze the hearings, blocking Republicans’ hopes to approve Bush’s new Cabinet immediately after he begins a second term.