There's no doubt politics are at the heart of why U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice withdrew her name from consideration to replace outgoing Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, as reported by NBC News Thursday.
Rice, an African-American woman whose U.S. State Department career began under President Bill Clinton, was harshly criticized for statements she made following the attacks in Benghazi. Rice blamed the violence on protests sparked by an anti-Islamic video, based on talking points provided by the CIA, a claim that was later deemed false.
Republican Sens. John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and Kelly Ayotte led a scathing attack on Rice's credibility following the incident and even after meeting with Rice vowed to block her nomination, which would be subject to Senate confirmation.
President Barack Obama was left with a difficult choice in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of four American diplomats – nominate Rice, who many say was his preferred candidate, and spend political capital on trying to win her confirmation, or nominate someone else and be accused of cowering to Republican demands. The announcement that Rice had withdrawn from consideration is clearly a move designed to give the president cover.
Obama vehemently defended Rice, who was never formally nominated for the position, during a press conference shortly after his re-election. He denied Rice purposefully mislead the public with her statements and said the senators had no grounds for "besmirching" Rice's reputation. Obama also vociferously defended Rice when asked about his confidence in her during a press conference at a recent cabinet meeting.
"I have every confidence that Susan has limitless capability to serve our country now and in the years to come, and know that I will continue to rely on her as an advisor and friend," said Obama in a statement released by the White House following Rice's withdrawal. "While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks, her decision demonstrates the strength of her character, and an admirable commitment to rise above the politics of the moment to put our national interests first."
Some political insiders have said that GOP senators were making hay out of the Benghazi incident so Rice would be passed over for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who is another top contender for the position. If Kerry's seat is vacated, Republican Sen. Scott Brown, who narrowly lost his bid for a full Senate term in November, is considered a top contender to replace him.
Graham said Obama still has plenty of people to choose from in selecting the next Secretary of State.
"I respect Ambassador Rice's decision," he said in a press release. "When it comes to Benghazi, I am determined to find out what happened – before, during, and after the attack. Unfortunately, the White House and other agencies are stonewalling when it comes to providing the relevant information. I find this unacceptable."
There's no formal timeline for Obama to name a replacement for Clinton, who has said she would like to step away from public office at the end of her term.
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Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.