Susan Rice gives up US secretary of state bid
Posted Friday, December 14 2012 at 09:08
Susan Rice has asked President Barack Obama not to pick her as his next secretary of state, after becoming a lightning rod for Republicans over the raid on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Rice, currently US envoy to the United Nations, is a longtime member of Obama's inner circle and had been a favourite to succeed Hillary Clinton as the top US diplomat.
But her role as a top administration defender over the attack which killed the US ambassador to Libya on September 11 drew her into a furious row with Republicans keen to dent Obama after his re-election victory.
"If nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly, to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities," Rice said in a letter to Obama on Thursday.
Rice told NBC, which first reported her decision, that she was determined not to detract from the crucial first months of Obama's second term -- even though she had not even been nominated as secretary of state.
"We're talking about comprehensive immigration reform, balanced deficit reduction, job creation -- that's what matters," Rice said.
"To the extent that my nomination could have delayed or distracted or deflected, or maybe even (made) some of these priorities impossible to achieve, I didn't want that."
Rice's move came amid strengthening indications that Obama is making progress in naming his new national security team. Sources said Republican former senator Chuck Hagel could become secretary of defense.
The White House, rowing over taxes and spending with Republicans, had pragmatically concluded the political capital needed to confirm Rice in the Senate could be better spent elsewhere.
But some observers may sense weakness in Obama's decision not to fight for Rice against opposition from Republicans -- including the man he defeated for the White House in 2008, Senator John McCain.
Obama, who aides say is philosophically and personally close to Rice, issued a statement condemning the "unfair and misleading attacks" on her and said she would stay on as UN ambassador with a spot on his cabinet.
The president and his UN envoy will meet Friday at the White House.
Republicans pounced on Rice after she said on September 16 that the Benghazi attack was a "spontaneous" reaction to an anti-Muslim video, using CIA talking points she now admits were wrong.
Extremists linked to Al-Qaeda are now blamed for the attack and Republicans charge the White House did not want to own up to a terror attack weeks before the presidential election.
Rice reiterated in a Washington Post editorial Thursday that she had made no attempt to mislead Americans. But she was not under fire for Benghazi alone.
There were whispers over her apparently acerbic character, and there was criticism over her role in US diplomacy to Africa when she served in Bill Clinton's administration.
Democratic Senator John Kerry is now the favourite for the post, though officials say no personnel announcements are imminent.