Condoleezza Rice was confirmed as U.S. secretary of state on Wednesday as a large majority of senators swept aside objections from some Democrats who said she should be held accountable for mistakes in the Iraq war.
Rice, President Bush’s close confidant and a key architect of the Iraq war as his national security adviser, won Senate confirmation by a vote of 85-13. The vote reflected more opposition than any secretary of state in recent history.
Some Democrats said she had repeatedly deceived Congress and was responsible for decisions they said have mired the United States in a conflict that has hurt efforts to fight terrorism worldwide.
Rice was sworn in quietly hours after the vote by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, to become the first black woman to head U.S. foreign policy.
The White House said she would report for duty at the State Department on Thursday, and a ceremonial swearing-in would be held later in the week.
The only other recent secretaries of state to draw significant opposition were Henry Kissinger with seven no votes in 1973 and Alexander Haig with six no votes in 1981, according to the Senate historian.
Colin Powell, Rice’s predecessor, was confirmed unanimously.
Republicans and a number of Democrats said Bush deserved his choice to conduct foreign policy. Many praised Rice’s biography of growing up in the segregated South and rising to the top echelons of the White House as a shining example of the American dream.
Bush, after the vote, said Rice will be “a great secretary of state … I’m honored to be working with her. And I look forward to spreading freedom and peace.”
Her confirmation came on the deadliest day for U.S. troops since they invaded Iraq 22 months ago, as 31 died in a helicopter crash and six more were killed in insurgent attacks.
Republicans accused Democrats of politicizing the confirmation by demanding a full day of Senate floor time in which they blasted Bush’s Iraq policies. The White House had wanted her to be confirmed quickly last week when Bush was sworn into a second term.
Indiana Republican Richard Lugar, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, chided lawmakers for “inflammatory rhetoric that is designed merely to create partisan advantage or settle partisan scores.”
Rice has been “in the arena making tough decisions and answering tough questions,” Lugar said. “I do not remember any national security adviser who did not have bruises to show for stepping into this arena.”
In some of their sharpest attacks yet on the Iraq war, several Democrats accused Rice of lying to or at least misleading Congress, providing shifting justifications for the war, and failing to prepare for a deadly post-invasion insurgency.
California Democrat Barbara Boxer, who led the opposition to Rice, said the debate was needed “so that we don’t send our young people into another war based on hyped-up rhetoric and half truths.”
Other Democrats spoke in support of Rice.
Joseph Biden of Delaware, top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he would support her but “with some frustrations and reservations” because she had not been candid with Congress or acknowledged mistakes in Iraq policy that should be fixed.
“Please do not … read a no vote as not being united in the effort to win in Iraq,” Biden said. “That’s why some of my colleagues are voting no. They think she’s undermined our ability to win in Iraq.”
Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat who strongly backed the war, urged a “resounding vote” for Rice to show “that we’re together for what we’re pursuing which is a successful conclusion to our involvement in Iraq and to the spread of freedom and democracy throughout the world.”
James Jeffords of Vermont, the Senate’s only independent, said he voted against a Cabinet-level nominee for the first time and called Rice “severely handicapped in her ability to be America’s chief diplomat.” He called her “a lead architect of our nation’s failed foreign policy and of the war in Iraq.”