WASHINGTON - In a daylong debate yesterday, Senate Democrats attacked the nomination of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, arguing that she had misled Congress and the public on the need for the war in Iraq.
Rice is expected to easily win confirmation in a Senate vote scheduled for today. But Senate staff members said at least 10 and up to 20 senators were expected to vote against her nomination. If so, Rice would become the first secretary of state not to win unanimous confirmation since 1981, when six senators voted against Alexander M. Haig Jr.'s nomination.
Senate Democratic leaders did not attempt to rally their ranks to vote against Rice. Instead, the Democratic leadership was reserving its political capital for a stand against President Bush's nominee for U.S. attorney general, Alberto R. Gonzales.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on the Gonzales nomination today, and a close vote could lead to more widespread Democratic opposition when the full Senate votes, probably next week.
Rice was described even by her fiercest critics yesterday as well-qualified for the job, as a candidate with an inspiring personal history, and as a diplomat who will be able to speak with the president's voice when talking to foreign leaders.
But the debate over the nomination of Rice, Bush's high-profile national security adviser and close confidante, mirrored the political divisions of the presidential election campaign.
Democrats argued that Rice, as a senior member of the Bush administration, had exaggerated, misled or lied during the prewar period by presenting intelligence as true or uncontested when later it was proved false. Rice had asserted that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, had ties to al-Qaida, had purchased specialized aluminum tubes that were only suitable for uranium enrichment and had attempted to purchase uranium from Africa for a possible nuclear weapon, Democrats said - all of which were later found to be untrue.
"I don't like to impugn anyone's integrity, but I really don't like being lied to repeatedly, flagrantly, intentionally," said Sen. Mark Dayton of Minnesota. "My vote against this nominee is my statement that this administration's lies must stop now."
Politicians rarely use the word "lie," preferring some of the milder terms other Democrats used yesterday.
"There was no reason to go to war in Iraq when we did, the way we did and for the false reasons we were given," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts.
"Dr. Rice is responsible for some of the most overblown rhetoric that the administration used to scare the American people," said Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia.
Democrats also said they were disturbed by what they called Rice's evasiveness about definitions of torture and by her opposition to a Senate measure in the fall that would have specifically banned "cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment" of foreign terrorism suspects by U.S. intelligence officers abroad.
Republicans lauded Rice as an experienced foreign policy official who commands the confidence of a president who they said should be given the right to choose his own foreign policy team. And they accused the Democrats of a partisanship that focused on the political battles of the past rather than the foreign policy challenges of the next four years.
Republican leaders, who had wanted to confirm Rice on Inauguration Day, were irked that Democrats had delayed her approval last week.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist predicted that Rice would win confirmation on a "very strong bipartisan vote." Asked whether the additional days of debate demanded by Democrats were necessary after Rice's lengthy confirmation hearing, he replied: "Absolutely not."
But Byrd said the constitutional requirement for Senate advice and consent to presidential nominations "was never intended by the framers to be used to burnish the image of a president on Inauguration Day."
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.