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Inside Politics

Rice to face quizzing from senators

Committee member expects Democrats to back nomination

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Condoleezza Rice will face tough questions from senators.

CNN's Dana Bash on Iraqi elections and President Bush.
Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- National security adviser Condoleezza Rice is expected to face tough questions when a Senate committee opens hearings Tuesday morning on her nomination as secretary of state, but most observers say her confirmation is all but certain.

Democrats say they plan to grill Rice about her role in the handling of faulty intelligence reports leading to the invasion of Iraq and her handling of terror warnings before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Some also say Rice may be too close to President Bush to be an effective Cabinet secretary -- unlike outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has been seen as a moderating influence.

"When you look at a secretary of defense who has been as forceful and effective as Donald Rumsfeld, for good or for ill, he's a tough customer," said Susan Rice, a former adviser to Sen. John Kerry's failed presidential campaign.

"She'll have to show whether she has the stuff to stand up and fight."

Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee "will try to play this bump-and-run, try to knock her off stride," said Sen. George Allen, a Virginia Republican who sits on the panel.

But, he said, "Ultimately, they're going to be voting for her for secretary of state."

As Bush's national security adviser, Rice did not have to testify under oath to Congress, so Democrats are eager to question her.

In the months before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Rice was among the leading administration officials who warned that Iraq was harboring stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction -- claims that have turned out to be incorrect. (Full story)

For example, Rice said Iraq tried to buy thousands of high-strength aluminum tubes that were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs" and said U.S. intelligence suggested that Iraqis had helped the al Qaeda terrorist network to develop chemical weapons.

But both the Department of Energy and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, determined the tubes were meant to be used in artillery rockets.

And the independent commission investigating the September 11 attacks found there was no "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and al Qaeda.

Rice faced heated questioning from the 9/11 commission in April, after former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke went public with claims that the Bush administration botched warnings of the al Qaeda hijacking plot.

She said the administration "would have moved heaven and earth" to stop the attack had they known they were coming. "And I know that there was no single thing that might have prevented that attack." (Full story)

But leaders of both parties say that -- like Alberto Gonzales, Bush's pick to lead the Justice Department -- Rice will get the job after a few hard questions get asked. (Full story)

Powell said last week that he expected the hearing "will go swimmingly," and that Rice could be confirmed and sworn in soon after Bush's inauguration on Thursday.

Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican, said he wants Rice to lay out her vision for Bush's second term on hot spots like Iran, North Korea, the spread of AIDS in Africa and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Allies like Allen say Rice will preview the theme of Bush's inaugural address -- spreading democracy around the world.

And they say Rice's personal story of growing up in the segregated South will help her carry that banner on the world stage.

Born a minister's daughter in segregated Alabama in 1954, Rice entered college at 15 and by 26 had earned a doctorate in international affairs.

She was an expert on the Soviet Union in the first Bush administration and tutored the current president on international policy during the 2000 campaign before becoming his national security adviser.

If confirmed, Rice would be the first black woman -- and only the second woman -- to head the State Department. The first woman was Madeleine Albright, in the Clinton administration.

"As we try to advance freedom for all people in the world, regardless of their race or their gender or their ethnicity or their religious beliefs, I think her own life experiences make her even a stronger person to advocate the concepts of freedom," Allen said.

CNN's Ed Henry contributed to this report.

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