Condoleezza Rice won easy confirmation Wednesday to be President Bush's new secretary of state, despite strong dissent from a small group of Democrats who said she shares blame for mistakes and war deaths in Iraq.
The Senate voted 85 to 13 to confirm Rice, who succeeds Colin Powell as America's top diplomat and becomes the first black woman to hold the job.
Plans were made for her to be sworn in at the White House Wednesday night, take her place in the State Department Thursday morning and have a more elaborate swearing-in by Bush at the agency on Friday.
The Senate vote showed some of the partisanship that delayed Rice's confirmation vote by several days. Twelve Democrats and independent James Jeffords of Vermont voted against Rice. The Democrats included some of the Senate's best-known members such as Massachusetts Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry, who was the party's presidential candidate in last year's election. Thirty Democrats voted for her.
Democratic foes of her appointment focused mostly on the way Bush and Rice took the United States to war in Iraq and how they have handled the war with insurgents since deposing Saddam Hussein.
They said mistakes had led to mounting American casualties. As the debate drew to a close, word came from Iraq of the crash of a U.S. military transport helicopter in bad weather, killing at least 30 people in the worst U.S. loss since the war.
Rice's nomination was never in doubt, however. Republicans had hoped to hold the vote last week, on the same day that Bush took the oath for his second term, but Democrats asked for more time. The GOP accused Democrats of inappropriately delaying Rice's confirmation to make political statements about Iraq policy.
Rice, 50, is Bush's trusted national security aide and a main architect of his policies on Iraq and the war on terror.
Although Rice was assured of confirmation, she got the most "no" votes since World War II. Seven senators voted against Henry Kissinger and six each against Dean Acheson and Alexander Haig.
"Dr. Rice is an honorable, fine public servant who needs to be confirmed," Bush said during a news conference Wednesday. "She will be a great secretary of state and Dr. Rice and I look forward to moving forward."
Bush rejected claims by Democrats that they had been lied to in the run-up to the war in Iraq.
On the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), R-Ariz., suggested Democrats are sore losers. Rice had enough votes to win confirmation, as even her Democratic critics acknowledge, McCain said.
"So I wonder why we are starting this new Congress with a protracted debate about a foregone conclusion," McCain said. Since Rice is qualified for the job, he said, "I can only conclude that we are doing this for no other reason than because of lingering bitterness over the outcome of the election."
What had seemed at the outset to be a cinch turned into sometimes angry debate over Bush's decision to go to war with Iraq, his struggle with a potent insurgency and Rice's role in helping him make a case for overthrowing Saddam.
An academic who specialized in the study of the now-defunct Soviet Union, she has been one of Bush's closest advisers as his national security adviser for four years. In testimony last week to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she swore she has not been shy about disagreeing with him privately at times.
Now, she will be at his side trying to improve relations with European allies, pursuing a Middle East settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, seeking a way to stop North Korea and Iran from developing nuclear weapons — and, above all, trying to pacify Iraq with limited additional U.S. casualties.
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