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Senate Dems may delay full vote on Rice

Panel confirms her nomination for secretary of state by 16-2

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Before confirming her 16-2, some senators have sharp words for Condoleezza Rice.

Tense moments on Capitol Hill as senators grill Condoleezza Rice.

Among Rice's remarks in her opening statement: "The time for diplomacy is now."

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Condoleezza Rice
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George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- If some Democrats have their way, Condoleezza Rice will not be confirmed as secretary of state as expected when the Senate meets on Thursday.

Sources on Capitol Hill said some Democrats plan to try to delay the vote on Rice's nomination when the Senate convenes Thursday at 3 p.m. -- three hours after Bush's inauguration -- in order to debate the nomination.

Aides said Democrats Barbara Boxer of California and Robert Byrd of West Virginia plan to give long speeches opposing the nomination in an effort to extend the debate until 7 p.m., when the inaugural balls begin.

The aides said Boxer and Byrd hope some GOP members will not want to stay to debate and the vote will be pushed back until next week.

After two days and 11 hours of often contentious hearings, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved Rice's nomination 16-2 Wednesday, despite reservations of some Democrats who nonetheless voted for her.

The two dissenting votes came from Boxer and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

"I choose to vote my concerns, not to overlook them. I choose to vote my gut, not custom," Kerry said during a committee meeting that preceded the vote.

Kerry called Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, one of the "principal architects" of policies that he said have made the United States less secure.

While acknowledging that Rice will be confirmed eventually, some Democrats want to show they are ready to fight the president in his second term -- amid grumbling that party leaders did not stand up to Bush in his first term.

Senate Republicans hope the move will backfire because Americans looking for bipartisanship will be turned off by the maneuver.

Republican aides said Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar will push to get Rice's nomination approved Thursday.

If confirmed, Rice would become the first African-American woman and second female to become secretary of state. She would replace Colin Powell, whose confirmation by the committee in 2001 was unanimous.

As the committee was voting on her nomination, Powell was making his farewell speech to workers at the State Department.

"I am so proud that I have had this chance to serve my nation once again," Powell said. "And when I step down from this job, I will have had close to 40 years of government service.

Rice, 50, faced nine hours of questioning Tuesday and two hours Wednesday in her confirmation hearing, including some pointed comments from Democrats who reluctantly voted for her like Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware.

On Wednesday, Biden chided Rice for sticking "to the party line" and not admitting mistakes on Iraq.

"Instead of seizing the opportunity," Biden said, "it seems to me, Dr. Rice, you have danced around it and, sort of, stuck to the party line, which seems pretty consistent: You're always right. You never made any mistakes. You're never wrong."

Biden said he hoped Rice would tell Bush: "Hey, boss, it's not going that well. Hey, boss, read a little history."

Rice told Biden that although there were some "bad decisions," the end result is the measuring stick to use against the administration's decisions.

"I know enough about history to stand back and recognize that you judge decisions not in the moment, but how it all adds up," she said. "It's how Iraq turns out that ultimately matters."

She did say there were "lessons learned" in the Iraq reconstruction effort: "We didn't have the right skills, the right capacity to deal with a reconstruction effort of this kind."

"God love you, please do me a favor," Biden said in his closing remarks to Rice. "Start to tell us the whole deal."

Biden also criticized Rice for saying 120,000 Iraqi security officers are trained but failing to acknowledge how many are fully trained.

Biden asked Rice to tell him how many, in her opinion, have been fully trained. "Tell us how many of those folks you think -- you think," Biden said. "And for God's sake, don't listen to (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld, he doesn't know what in the hell he's talking about in this."

Rice acknowledged "problems with the training," but said the administration is working on those problems.

Boxer and Rice engaged in a tense exchange Tuesday in which Rice asked Boxer to "refrain from impugning my integrity." (Full story)

In Wednesday's session, Boxer denounced Rice for what she said was making Americans believe that the war in Iraq was part of the U.S. response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Rice insisted the administration made clear that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. "It was a question of an attitude about terrorism" that justified the war in Iraq, she said.

"I, probably more than most, because I did have a role in the president's decision to go to war, mourn every day the people that are lost," Rice said.

"I look at their pictures. I think about their families. I've been to Walter Reed. I see the pain and suffering. I believe that their service and their sacrifice was needed for our security."

In the committee meeting after Wednesday's hearing, Boxer said she hoped Rice would see the difference between her new job and her old role "where she wasn't in any way responsible to come before Congress, but went to the American people and sold a war and continues to repeat things that were not so."

CNN's Ed Henry contributed to this report.

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