Samantha Power: Can Obama's UN nominee live down Israel comments?

Samantha Power, President Obama's nominee to be ambassador to the UN, is no shrinking violet. She's made her fair share of controversial statements, and they'll likely come up in confirmation hearings.

Evan Vucci/AP
From right to left, Samantha Power, President Obama's nominee to be the next UN ambassador, walks with current UN Ambassador Susan Rice, Mr. Obama, and current National Security Adviser Tom Donilon as they leave the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington Wednesday.

Samantha Power has the kind of credentials and contacts that spark envy among Washington peers. She’s a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, confidant to President Obama, and a well-known global human rights crusader. Ms. Power is also married to Cass Sunstein, the president’s former White House regulations czar, making her one half of a legal power couple.

But the Harvard Law graduate, nominated by Mr. Obama yesterday to be the next UN ambassador, is about to experience the greatest initiation of all into capital city culture – the congressional confirmation process. And given the coverage spawned by the Rose Garden announcement of Power’s appointment, it could be a doozy.

Conservative headlines and blogs are blaring Power’s biggest verbal gaffes and political missteps:

“Samantha Power’s Five Worst Statements,” crows The Washington Free Beacon, a right-wing website.

On “A Look at Obama's New UN Ambassador: Radical Samantha Power.”

“Samantha Power’s promotion to U.N. ambassador is a major disappointment,” writes Richard Grenell on

“In a position of power and proximity to the president of the United States, from which she could meaningfully act against any unfolding injustice, Power was largely silent and completely ineffective,” Mr. Grenell, a former spokesman for Bush-era UN Ambassador John Bolton, among others, says of Power’s White House work on the human-rights crisis in Sudan. “The NGO community was left wondering which Samantha Power was getting to speak inside the Oval Office.”

During the confirmation process, Republicans are gunning these days for anyone whose weaknesses can be targeted in an attempt to, by extension, knock an already beleaguered White House.

Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel took a beating from his former Republican colleagues during his hearings to become Obama’s secretary of Defense. Mr. Hagel was, of course, ultimately successful, but he appeared weary and beaten down by the end of the process.

Power is no shrinking violet – and that’s sometimes gotten her into trouble. As an Obama loyalist during the bitter 2008 Democratic primary campaign, she famously called then-rival Hillary Rodham Clinton “a monster.” Power stepped down from her post with the campaign and apologized.

But, more importantly in the context of her UN assignment, she’s also made waves on the foreign-policy front.

In a well-circulated interview at the University of California at Berkeley more than a decade ago, Power said there are human-rights abuses occurring in Israel and that the US might need to intervene militarily. The remarks have prompted criticism of her as anti-Israel. She has struggled to walk back the comments, wooing influential pro-Israel rabbis, authors, and activists. It’s unlikely she’ll make it through the hearing without having to clarify her intentions where Israel is concerned.

Power has also slammed UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for not doing more to address genocide in Darfur. And in a 2003 New Republic piece, she urged a general policy of apology for the nation’s past foreign policy missteps:

“A country has to look back before it can move forward. Instituting a doctrine of the mea culpa would enhance our credibility by showing that American decision-makers do not endorse the sins of their predecessors.”

Or maybe all the brewing conservative outrage could amount to a whole lot of nothing. Perhaps in the wake of the 2012 presidential contest, which produced an overwhelming gender gap that favored the president, the GOP has considered the optics of going after Power after effectively blocking another woman, Susan Rice, in her quest to be secretary of State. Alongside Power, Rice was, of course, elevated yesterday to national security adviser, a post that does not require the Senate’s affirmation.

Already a leading Republican voice against the Hagel and Rice confirmations has weighed in for Power.

In the wake of Obama’s announcement, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona issued his support, sending a signal to his cohorts that hers is likely no Hagel or Rice situation. The Israel questions will come, no doubt, but Power’s answers aren’t expected to derail the move to New York.

"I support President Obama's nomination of Samantha Power to become the next US ambassador to the United Nation," Senator McCain said in a statement. "I believe she is well qualified for this important position and hope the Senate will move forward on her nomination as soon as possible."

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