She advised his father as the Cold War melted into the new world order. And as a trusted member of President George W. Bush's innermost circle, she served as a loyal national security adviser during his first term in office.
Condoleezza Rice -- an accomplished academic, former provost of Stanford University and concert-level pianist -- was confirmed as the nation's 66th secretary of state by a vote of 85 to 13 on Jan. 26, 2005.
After nine hours over two days of sometimes fiery debate, the Senate officially made Rice the second woman to hold the post, which is four steps from the presidency in the Constitutional line of succession. The Alabama native and Stanford provost will also be the first black woman to hold the position of secretary of state. Madeleine Albright was the first female secretary of state, under President Clinton.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee reported the Rice nomination favorably to the full Senate by a vote of 16-2 with former Democratic presidential contender Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., voting against her. In the full Senate, opposition to Rice gathered steam with the 13 Democrats opposing the president's first-term national security adviser. No Republicans opposed the confirmation.
Since 1789, only eight nominees to the position of secretary of state have received votes against their confirmation; Rice's Senate confirmation succeeded with the second-largest number of "nay" votes in history, nearly matching the 14 nay votes received by Henry Clay during President John Q. Adams' administration in 1825.
Weeks after his re-election, Bush announced Rice's appointment to replace Colin Powell as the top U.S. diplomat. "The secretary of state is America's face to the world and in Dr. Rice the world will see the strength, grace and decency of our country," he said during a brief ceremony at the White House.
Somewhat stern and conservative, yet fiercely loyal, Rice has spent several weekends with Bush and first lady Laura Bush during some of the most difficult periods of his first term.
A key supporter of the Afghan and Iraq wars, Rice takes on the job at a time when the United States faces widespread international criticism for its foreign policy, especially in the Middle East.
In Iraq, battle-fatigued U.S. troops are fighting an insurgency that appears to get more brutal and intransigent by the day. The administration has faced criticism for using a belief that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction as a key reason for going to war. No such weapons have been found in Iraq.
The much-touted Road Map to Peace between Israel and the Palestinians is in shambles. And by all accounts, Iran and North Korea, two other nations on Bush's "axis of evil," are capable of -- and probably intent on -- pursuing their nuclear ambitions.
Powell, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and one of the most popular figures in the Bush administration, had reportedly clashed with other members of the president's team regarding the war in Iraq.
Growing Up in Segregated Birmingham
Born in 1954 and raised in segregated Birmingham, Ala., Rice was the only child of two educators who instilled in her a strong sense of family and community. Her name is a variation of the Italian musical term "con dolcezza," which is a direction to play "with sweetness." Rice was called Condi by her friends, a nickname that has stuck with her.
Although she lost a kindergarten classmate in 1963 when white supremacists bombed the Black Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, Rice has maintained that she felt insulated from the upheaval around her.
"My parents really provided a shield as much as they could against the horrors of Birmingham," she has told reporters.
But looking back at her childhood, Rice has said her parents, the Rev. John Wesley and Angelena Rice, also attempted to instill a sense of justice in their daughter. "At the same time I can remember my parents taking me to watch the [civil rights] marchers -- they wanted us to know the history and to know what was happening."
Unlike Powell, who publicly supports affirmative action, Rice's position on race has frequently come under criticism from prominent black activists. In January 2003, a report in The Washington Post credited Rice with helping to shape the administration's decision to challenge the affirmative action admissions policy at the University of Michigan.
But following an outcry in the black community, Rice released a statement that clarified her position. "I believe that while race-neutral means are preferable, it is appropriate to use race as one factor among others in achieving a diverse student body," she said.
From Rachmaninoff to Russia
In 1967, the family moved to Denver when Rice's father accepted the position of vice chancellor at the University of Denver. She began taking college courses while still in high school, and was well on her way to becoming a concert pianist, when an accident of fate led her to become an expert on the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
"I was saved from a music major by Russia," said Rice years later, claiming she abandoned her music studies after realizing she would end up "teaching 13-year-olds to murder Beethoven."
And so began a search for a major that ended in the classroom of renowned professor Josef Korbel, the Albright's father.
"He gave a lecture on Josef Stalin and the politics was so Byzantine, there was so much intrigue," she said. "I decided I wanted to study the Soviet Union."
A Record of Firsts
Rice went on to pursue her doctorate after graduating with honors from the university at 19.
In 1981, she began teaching at Stanford University. Five years later, a Council on Foreign Relations fellowship brought her to Washington to work on nuclear strategic planning under Adm. William Crowe at the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
It was an experience she remembers fondly.
"There were four of us in one little office and it was great," she once recounted. "I gained so much respect for military officers and what they do, and I think I really got an experience that few civilians have."
In 1989, former President Bush's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, helped convince her to leave Stanford again and work for him in Washington. She quickly became one of Bush's most trusted advisers, helping craft policy in the region she had studied for so many years.
When Texas Gov. George W. Bush declared his candidacy for the 2000 presidential race, Rice served as his chief adviser on foreign-policy issues. She also served as one of the 10 members on his hand-picked Presidential Exploratory Committee.
Behind the President
But it was during her four-year stint as national security adviser that Rice truly distinguished herself in public service, topping the 2004 Forbes magazine list of the world's most powerful women.
"When Rice speaks, she speaks for the president," the magazine reported in a gushing write-up. "With her silver-tongued diplomacy and steely nerve, Rice has played a key, behind-the-scenes role in helping to steer the United States through two wars, as well as the resulting controversies."
Her rise to power within the Bush administration came shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when she staunchly stood by the president during the shocked and devastating days following the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Part of a group of foreign-policy advisers to Bush nicknamed "The Vulcans" -- a group that includes Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz -- Rice is believed to be one of the formulators of Bush's controversial "pre-emptive strikes" doctrine.
Security Failings Leading Up to 9/11
With the war against al Qaeda raging in Afghanistan and the man behind the attacks, Osama bin Laden still at large -- probably in the remote mountainous border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan -- Rice nevertheless supported the Bush agenda to attack Iraq.
But it was during the investigation into the terrorist attacks by an independent commission in late 2003 that Rice faced her biggest challenge in public office.
As the national security adviser argued over the ground rules of testifying under oath to the commission, her earlier quote that no one "could have predicted that they would try to use a ... hijacked airplane as a missile" was exposed as an outright lie in the face of mounting evidence of U.S. intelligence reports warning that al Qaeda was interested in airplane attacks.
Finally, Rice testified before the commission on April 8, 2004, saying that legal barriers had prevented law enforcement and intelligence agencies from pooling information. But she insisted there was no "silver bullet" that could have prevented the attacks on New York and Washington.
ABC News' Ed O'Keefe contributed to this report