"I think John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues," Sen. Susan Collins said in response to a question about Kerry serving as secretary of state.
WASHINGTON - Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins' stinging criticisms of United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice on Tuesday were viewed by many in Washington as a potentially fatal blow to Rice's prospects as the next secretary of state.
But a one-liner from Collins helped fuel speculation that Republican opposition to Rice is really about the balance of power in the Senate, not the ambassador's incorrect explanations about who was behind attacks that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
"I think John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues," Collins said in response to a question about Kerry serving as secretary of state.
The theory goes like this: If the Obama administration nominates Kerry -- a Massachusetts Democrat -- instead of Rice for the nation's top diplomatic post, Kerry's Senate seat would open up.
And that would potentially give Republican Sen. Scott Brown -- who lost his re-election bid in November -- another shot at the seat in a special election.
Collins campaigned for Brown, and other Republicans have been openly touting Kerry for secretary of state.
The Senate Democratic caucus currently numbers 55, including independents Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen.-elect Angus King of Maine.
So while replacing Kerry with Brown wouldn't tip the scales, it would narrow the Democratic edge and restore another moderate Republican.
Rice appears to have strong support among Democrats, notwithstanding her Sept. 16 comments suggesting that the Benghazi attacks may have been carried out by an angry mob rather than militant groups.
But Kerry, the Democrats' presidential nominee in 2004, is well respected by both sides for his foreign policy expertise.
Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley pointed out that the Maine Republican and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., are leading an independent, bipartisan congressional into the events in Benghazi.
"With respect to Senator John Kerry, with whom Senator Collins has served for many years, reporters asked Senator Collins if he would be confirmed if nominated by the president," Kelley wrote in response to questions about a GOP Rice-Kerry scheme.
"She replied that she felt that he would be easily confirmed. She has made no recommendations to the president on whom he should nominate should Secretary of State (Hillary) Clinton decide to relinquish her position."
SANTA'S RANGELEY CONNECTION
Don't tell the kids, but when Santa arrives in the nation's capital this season he won't be flying in from the North Pole.
He'll be coming from western Maine.
Beginning Dec. 6, children who visit the Christmas displays in President's Park next to the White House will see Santa -- a.k.a. Rob Hoffman of Rangeley -- in his workshop making toys with his elves.
The folks who play Santa typically fall into two categories: those with real white beards and those without.
Hoffman, a retired airline pilot, falls into the first group.
"I retired about 10 years ago and I stopped shaving. And the beard came out white," Hoffman said by phone Friday while taking a break from firewood duties (no elves in Rangeley, apparently).
"Everybody said, 'Rob, you ought to play Santa."'
"It's a lot of fun," said Hoffman, who works with a placement agency for real-beard Santas.
President's Park is the national park that encompasses the White House and surrounding grounds, including The Ellipse where the National Christmas Tree and other outdoor holiday displays are located.
SNOWE EXIT BEGINS
Sen. Olympia Snowe still has more than a month left in her term, but the farewells have already started.
On Thursday, Snowe attended the final scheduled hearing of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, of which she is the senior Republican member.
Snowe's colleagues on the committee praised her work on behalf of the businesses community and her willingness to work across the aisle.
"I hope that as you leave, the example that you set is one that all of us can follow," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.
Shaheen especially credited Snowe with helping save the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard during the last round of base closings, which in turn helped protect jobs at small businesses throughout New England.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, the Louisiana Democrat who co-chairs the committee, went through a long list of committee accomplishments in the years since she and Snowe became the first women to simultaneously hold the senior positions in a House or Senate committee.
Landrieu credited Snowe with helping expand federal programs that support small businesses, including nearly doubling the amount of small business lending funds to community banks in recent years.
Snowe, a former committee chair herself when Republicans were in the majority, joked that she has served on congressional small business committees longer than some of her senior staffers have been alive. Snowe was first elected to Congress in 1978.
"I can't think of any higher priority than being a megaphone for the 150,000 small businesses in my state of Maine and, of course, the more than 30 million small businesses nationwide," she said in opening remarks. "As we all know, small businesses are willing to take risks that others won't.
"They have their fingers on the pulse of the local community."
Washington Bureau Chief Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at: