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Amb. Rice to meet with McCain, other senators

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, the woman who could be President Obama's pick to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, heads to Capitol Hill today for closed-door meetings with Republican senators in an attempt to explain her comments about the Benghazi terrorist attacks.

UPDATED 9:06 AM ET, Nov. 27: Amb. Susan Rice will be on Capitol Hill the next two days to meet privately with select senators, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), regarding the attacks in Benghazi last September, Capitol Hill and State Department sources tell NBC News.

Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, requested two meetings with senators this week. On Tuesday, she'll meet with McCain, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R), and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH).

On Wednesday, Rice will meet with with Maine Sen. Susan Collins, the top Republican on Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

Another hint of Rice's clout and the White House's intention to armor her, Acting CIA Director Mike Morrell will accompany her on all her Senate meetings. It was the CIA  that wrote the unclassified talking points - that went through Director of National Intelligence Gen. James Clapper - that she says she relied "solely and squarely on" when doing those Sunday talk shows on Benghazi.   

These are significant because McCain, Graham and Ayotte are prominent GOP national-security voices and have been among Rice's harshest critics for her handling of the situation in Benghazi.

Asked about McCain's criticism last week, Rice said, "I do believe some of the statements he has made about me are unfounded, and I look forward at the appropriate time to have a chance to respond."

Most notably, Republicans have seized on her appearance on Meet the Press days after the attack, in which she said the administration believed an inflammatory video had been at least partially responsible for the violence in Benghazi, which killed four Americans, including an ambassador. It was later revealed to be a terrorist plot.

On Sunday, McCain was noticeably less critical of her, saying: "I'd give everyone the benefit of explaining their position and the actions that they took. I'd be glad to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with her."

Rice is thought to be among the final two -- Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee being the other -- to be considered by President Obama to replace outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Rice has not been nominated yet, but all signs are pointing toward her being the president's first choice. If she were nominated, the Senate would have to confirm her.

Kerry, ironically, would chair her confirmation hearings. If Rice is nominated to succeed Clinton, it is possible Kerry would be nominated to be Secretary of Defense. 

McCain said Rice called him to request the meeting with him as well as Ayotte and Graham. Ayotte said the meeting is crucial to her ability to decide whether Rice is fit to be Secretary of State.

"If President Obama nominates her for Secretary of State, I would hold the nomination until sufficient answers regarding the Benghazi attack were given, then judge based on those answers," Ayotte said. She added that it "would be helpful to see some documents."

Those documents will likely come with Morell.

McCain said he has a number of questions for Rice, and hopes this meeting will clear up concerns he's had with Rice's characterization of the attack.

"My concerns are obviously that she told the American people things that were patently false, that were not true," McCain said, "and that, as I said at the time, people don't go to demonstrations with mortars and rocket propelled grenades. But most of this goes back to the the president and his responsibility, and his failure to tell the American people the truth in the second debate that he had with Mitt Romney when he said he had called it a terrorist attack in the Rose Garden when, in fact, he hadn't. The president is the one who's responsible."

The president did, in fact, use the phrase "acts of terror" in his White House address from the Rose Garden that McCain references. "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for," Obama said.

But the president did not make clear that he believed the attacks were a terrorist plot - not the result of a the anti-Islamic video. Obama, in fact, alluded to the video when he said that the U.S. is "a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.  But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence. None."