United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, who may be tapped as President Obama's next Secretary of State, met privately Tuesday with three Republican Senate critics to defend her role in the aftermath of the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. But Rice may have emerged even less popular with the trio.
Sens. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, Kelly Ayotte, of New Hampshire, and John McCain, of Arizona, told reporters after the hour-plus meeting that they were "significantly troubled," by Rice's answers to their questions about the attack in Benghazi.
"All I can say is that the concerns I have are greater today than they were before, and we're not even close to getting the basic answers," Graham said.
Lawmakers have questioned Rice's appearances on five Sunday talk shows the weekend following the incident, during which she insisted that the armed assault was a spontaneous, violent reaction to an anti-Muslim video.
Rice and others in the Obama administration continued to blame the video even though the CIA had been quick to identify the premeditated attack as the work of terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda.
"Clearly, the impression that was given, the information given to the American people was wrong," Ayotte said of Rice's Sunday show appearances. "In fact, Ambassador Rice said today, absolutely it was wrong."
Ayotte said she was particularly troubled that Rice, in her position as U.N. Ambassador with access to classified material, did not push to get more information about the incident before appearing on the Sept. 16 shows.
"And that's troubling to me as well, why she wouldn't have asked, I'm the person that doesn't know anything about this, I'm going on every single show," Ayotte said. "The fact that it's not just the talking points that were unclassified, but clearly, it's part of her responsibility as an ambassador to the United Nations, she reviews much more than that."
Obama has yet to announce who he will select to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is said to be eager to step down at the end of the year. Rice is widely seen as Obama's top choice, followed by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
The White House is concerned that elevating Kerry to secretary of state could cost Democrats Kerry Senate seat in Massachusetts. But nominating Rice also carries risks, including days of hearings at the start of the president's new second term in which Benghazi would be front and center.
A CNN poll released Tuesday showed 54 percent of those surveyed were "dissatisfied" with the Obama Administration's response to the attacks, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others. The survey showed 40 percent believed the administration intentionally misled the nation about what happened.
The three senators said after Tuesday's meeting that they want more answers about Benghazi before they would even consider Rice as Clinton's replacement. They have called for a select committee to investigate the attack, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has refused too convene one.