It didn’t take a political genius to foresee the Republican outcry over Obama’s choice of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to be his new national security adviser. Republicans know when they’re being given the finger, and Obama made no effort to pretend that Rice’s appointment wasn’t a satisfying bit of payback for her torpedoed nomination to head the State Department: Drive off my top pick for Foggy Bottom, will you? Well, let’s see you advise and consent this!
Rice’s was the one scalp the GOP could claim over Benghazi. Now that she’s come roaring back, this time in a role that Republican lawmakers can’t do a damn thing about, of course they’re spitting mad. If Utah Congressman and Benghazi supercritic Jason Chaffetz gets any more up in Rice’s grill, she may need to slap him with a restraining order.
But while Rice may have slipped beyond the GOP’s embittered grasp, Obama’s choice to replace her, Samantha Power, is preparing to sail straight into it as the president’s choice to succeed Rice at the U.N.—a role that does demand senators’ advice and consent. This leaves a political wrinkle to ponder: will gender play any role in Power’s confirmation hearings?
This is not to suggest that Senate Republicans will beat up on Power because she is a woman. The assumption around Washington is that Republicans will beat up on Power as a proxy for Rice, for the recently decamped Hillary Clinton, and, most of all, for Obama himself. But the fact that Power, like Rice, is a woman operating at the highest levels of the still male-dominated foreign-policy establishment makes a prolonged, nasty Republican assault (à la the Hagel hearings) a risky play for a party that has had its problems with female voters for a while now.
Leaving aside each woman’s particular foreign-policy chops, the one-two punch of Obama’s Rice-Power selection has introduced a women-on-the-rise theme into the narrative. Following the president’s Rose Garden announcement, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer wanted to deconstruct the politics of the situation, but chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin wanted to get personal. Let’s focus for a moment on the fact that we have “two women in very senior policy roles,” she beamed at Blitzer. More noteworthy still, noted Yellin, both have young children—Power’s daughter so young, in fact, that the 1-year-old could be heard wailing during the president’s speech. Their appointments represent “a real change in culture,” Yellin told Blitzer, a sign of “the president’s effort to diversify his cabinet.”
Yellin was far from the only journalist pointing to the new gender balance of the national-security team; Democratic power players, meanwhile, voiced approval both on and off the record. (One gal chuckled to me about the nosebleed this shot of estrogen would give even some Grumpy Old Men in her own party.)
So it is that Republican lawmakers—if indeed they want to use Power as a stand-in punching bag—will need to proceed delicately (not always their forte) lest they open themselves up to charges from Dems or women’s groups that this is yet another round in their war against the fairer sex. You hear the talking points already: First Rice, now Power. Talk about a festival of misogyny! And then, maybe, for good measure: But did John Kerry have any trouble at his confirmation? Noooooooo.
Fair? Probably not. Many Republicans genuinely regard this administration’s foreign policy as feckless and are desperate to punish somebody, anybody, everybody for its failures, real or perceived. Then again, a party that so assiduously earns itself a reputation as anti-women should perhaps expect to find life increasingly complicated as the ladies take charge.