Are Republican lawmakers targeting U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice because she is African-American and/or a woman? Rice, a top contender to replace outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has been at the center of a firestorm over the talking points she used in discussions about the fatal attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Rep. James Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House, and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus believe it's both. Speaking on CNN's Starting Point With Soledad O'Brien, Clyburn said that Republicans, particularly those from his home state of South Carolina, are using racial code to discredit a supremely capable African-American member of President Obama's administration.
"You know, these are code words. We heard them during the campaign. During this recent campaign, we heard Sen. Sununu calling our president lazy, incompetent," Clyburn said. "These kinds of terms that those of us, especially those of us who were born and raised in the South, we've been hearing these little words and phrases all of our lives, and we get insulted by them."
Sens. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) have suggested that Rice is incompetent. In addition, 97 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter circulated by South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan to Obama stating that she "willfully or incompetently misled" the public about what happened in Benghazi, causing the international community "to question U.S. commitment and credibility."
House members have no say in cabinet confirmations, but the group also urged the president to not nominate Rice for secretary of state. Rice in that role, they said, would "undermine your desire to improve U.S. relations with the world and continue to build trust with the American people."
Clyburn said that if Rice had actually erred instead of using the information she was given, lawmakers would be right to call her out on it, but to question her competency is going too far, especially when it comes from people "who can't hold a candle to her intellectually."
Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, incoming Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman, agrees.
"You may not like her. You may not like the administration. But don't say she's not qualified," she said at a recent Capitol Hill news conference. "It is a shame that anytime something goes wrong, they pick on women and minorities. I have a real issue with that."
Clyburn also suggested that McCain questioning the abilities of a Rhodes Scholar is literally the kettle calling the pot black by questioning the failed presidential candidate's own credibility.
"He told us that Sarah Palin was a very competent person to be vice president of the United States," Clyburn said. "That ought to tell you a little bit about his judgment."
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