Washington, 19 January 2005 -- The committee ended two days of mostly cordial hearings with a vote of 16-2 to recommend Rice's approval by the full Senate. That vote is expected tomorrow.
Members of President George W. Bush's Republican Party have a majority on the committee, and even probing questions during the hearing were mostly asked politely. And Rice answered them with poise.
"We've had to make a lot of decisions -- some of them good, some of them bad. But I would hope that what we will do now is to focus on where we go from here."
But the nominee was frequently challenged about her role in controversial decisions by the Bush administration, including the invasion of Iraq. Critics say they left the United States politically isolated, even from its traditional allies.
Rice defended those decisions. Yet at one point, she also acknowledged some mistakes: "I would be the first, again, to say we've had to make a lot of decisions -- some of them good, some of them bad. But I would hope that what we will do now is to focus on where we go from here."
In the final debate before the committee vote, opposition Democrats criticized the Iraq war and other aspects of Bush's foreign policy. Senator Barbara Boxer (Democrat, California) said she could not vote to recommend Rice for the State Department's top post -- and cast one of the two committee votes against her nomination.
Boxer repeatedly accused Rice of letting her loyalty to the president blind her to the truth -- namely, that Iraq never posed an imminent threat to the United States and did not have weapons of mass destruction.
And Senator John Kerry (Democrat, Massachussetts), who unsuccessfully challenged Bush for the presidency last year, said he, too, would vote no. He said he understood it is customary for senators to allow a president to have the secretary of state of his choice.
"But the fact is that Dr. Rice is one of the principal architects, implementers and defenders of a series of administration policies and choices that in my judgment have not made our country as secure as we ought to be in the aftermath of 9/11 [the attacks of 11 September 2001], and that have alienated much of the world and certainly much needed allies in our effort to reduce the cost in lives and dollars to the American people," he said. He was the other dissenting vote on the committee.
Some of Rice's critics said the nominee was too dismissive of dissent and would help craft a unilateralist foreign policy.
But the chairman of the committee, Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana), said he would vote for Rice because her performance at the hearing, and his previous contacts with her, showed that she is a proponent of bipartisanship.
"Let me just conclude by saying that I'm hopeful that members [of the committee] will give her strong support with their votes today, but even if not, then with their support and their good advice in months to come," he said.
The committee voted as the current secretary of state, Colin Powell, was giving a farewell address to State Department employees. In the speech, Powell called Rice a good friend who would bring "gifted leadership" to the department.