Senate Democrats have rather churlishly pushed Condoleezza Rice's certain approval as secretary of state over to next week. Perhaps they felt that the gracious gesture of confirming her on Inauguration Day would be interpreted by the Bush White House as a sign of weakness.
Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee seemed disappointed that Rice would not distance herself from, backtrack from or apologize for President Bush's foreign policy. They failed to force any daylight between Rice and the president after two days of hearings, and a few more days of dithering are unlikely to change that.
Rice's credentials to be secretary of state were not in question. She is a career student of foreign policy and spent the last four years as White House national security adviser. No one who has followed her career was surprised by her performance before the Foreign Relations Committee.
She was informed, poised and unflappable, her voice only taking on a slight edge when Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., all but accused her of being a liar — "your loyalty to the mission you were given, to sell this war, overwhelmed your respect for the truth."
Rice's icy response: "I never, ever lost my respect for the truth in the service of anything." In the end, only Boxer and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., of the 18 committee members, voted against Rice.
Rice defended and endorsed administration positions on Iraq — the war was right even if the intelligence was wrong — and on North Korea, Iran and the Mideast. The consistency is admirable, but it raises the worrisome prospect that there is no fresh thinking on these problems within the administration.
That said, she made several worthy commitments: To work to rebuild relations with our traditional allies, refocus administration attention on neglected Latin America, take an active role in a Mideast settlement, and reassert the State Department as "the primary instrument of American diplomacy" — a clear if diplomatic shot at Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon.
The Senate should confirm Rice without delay. She needs to get to work.