United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name Thursday from consideration to be secretary of state, sparing the Obama administration what could have been a bruising congressional confirmation battle.
Rice submitted a letter to President Barack Obama stating that “I am fully confident that I could serve our country ably and effectively” as the successor to outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “However, if nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly – to you and our most pressing national and international priorities.”
Obama said he accepted Rice’s request with regret after speaking with her.
“I am grateful that Susan will continue to serve as our Ambassador at the United Nations and a key member of my cabinet and national security team…,” Obama said in a statement released by the White House. “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.”
Congressional Republicans had set their sights on Rice after she appeared on Sunday news shows in the aftermath of the deadly Sept. 11, 2012 attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, and forcefully stated that the attack spawned from a spontaneous demonstration.
The attack proved to be a product of terrorism. Rice said she was reading from talking points provided by the intelligence community at the request of congressional leaders. Still, Republican lawmakers like Sen. John McCain, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine, accused Rice of politicizing the Benghazi attack in the weeks leading to the presidential election, a charge that she and the White House vehemently denied.
“The position of secretary of state should never be politicized,” Rice said in her letter to Obama. “As someone who grew up in an era of comparative bipartisanship and as a sitting U.S. national security official who has served in two U.S. administrations, I am saddened that we have reached this point, even before you have decided whom to nominate.”
Shortly after his re-election, Obama appeared to signal that he was willing to fight for Rice’s nomination, telling reporters that anyone who has a problem with Rice has a problem with him. House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn and members of the Congressional Black Caucus suggested that criticism of Rice had racial overtones. Some suggested in particular that Graham was up for re-election in South Carolina in 2014 and moving more to the political right to protect himself.
“I’m still proud of @Ambassador Rice and glad she will continue to serve,” Clyburn tweeted. “Her Republican critics need to stop their mindless partisanship.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a former Congressional Black Caucus chair, tweeted: “Disappointed Amb. Rice, such a well-qualified woman of color would be denied a fair shot @ Sec State based on unfounded political attacks.”
Republicans, meanwhile, rejoiced in Rice’s decision. Brian Rogers, a McCain spokesman, said “Senator McCain thanks Ambassador Rice for her service to the country and wishes her well.”
Graham said “I respect Ambassador Rice’s decision,” adding that “President Obama has many talented people to choose from to serve as our next Secretary of State.”
“When it comes to Benghazi I am determined to find out what happened – before, during, and after the attack,” Graham said.
“Unfortunately, the White House and other agencies are stonewalling when it comes to providing the relevant information. I find this unacceptable.”