Susan Rice withdraws from consideration as secretary of state
By CNN Political Unit
updated 6:37 PM EST, Thu December 13, 2012
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice withdrew her name from consideration for secretary of state on Thursday.
- NEW: Albright: Rice "put the country and the president ahead of her own ambition"
- Susan Rice withdraws from consideration as secretary of state
- Nomination would be "be lengthy, disruptive, and costly," she says in letter to president
- Republican critics "respect" Rice's decision, vow to continue Benghazi inquiry
(CNN) -- Susan Rice,
the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who drew heavy criticism from
Republicans over her statements after the September attacks on a U.S.
diplomatic mission, withdrew her name from consideration for secretary
of state on Thursday.
In a letter to President
Barack Obama, she said "the confirmation process would be lengthy,
disruptive, and costly -- to you and to our most pressing national and
international priorities. That trade-off is simply not worth it to our
Obama acknowledged her
letter in a statement that described her as "an extraordinarily capable,
patriotic, and passionate public servant." He will meet with Rice
Friday at the White House, National Security Council spokesman Tommy
Read Rice's letter to the President
She was thought to be a
frontrunner for the post, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said
she would vacate as soon as a successor is confirmed.
But Rice drew criticism
for her description of the September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S.
mission in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four including the U.S.
Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. On several television programs
several days after the attack, she described a protest of an anti-Islam
video outside the mission buildings.
She said her comments
were based on declassified talking points, and sources within the
intelligence community said the talking points were not modified by any
other body, such as the White House.
Obama had defended her,
describing the criticism from several key Republicans as "outrageous."
"If Senator McCain and Senator (Lindsey) Graham and others want to go
after someone, they should go after me," Obama said at a White House
news conference in late November. "When they go after the U.N.
ambassador, apparently because they think she's an easy target, then
they've got a problem with me."
She visited Capitol Hill
in an attempt to answer what the legislators called "unanswered
questions," but her visit there appeared to backfire. Senators who sat
in on the meetings said her appearances raised more questions than they
5 questions on Susan Rice
Her closed-door meetings "really hurt her," one knowledgeable Democratic source said. "She probably underestimated the club."
The longer Rice went
un-nominated, the source said, the worse her prospects appeared. It was
"better to get out now" so that Obama could begin announcing a national
security slate as early as next week.
Rice's decision to not
seek the post now leaves Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, as the
presumed frontrunner for the spot. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and
other high-ranking officials are also expected to depart soon.
Kerry praised Rice as "an extraordinarily capable and dedicated public servant" in a statement after her announcement.
"I've known and worked
closely with Susan Rice not just at the U.N., but in my own campaign for
president. I've defended her publicly and wouldn't hesitate to do so
again because I know her character and I know her commitment," he wrote.
"We should all be grateful that she will continue to serve and
contribute at the highest level. As someone who has weathered my share
of political attacks and understands on a personal level just how
difficult politics can be, I've felt for her throughout these last
difficult weeks, but I also know that she will continue to serve with
great passion and distinction."
Kerry's road to the
State Department, should he be nominated, would appear to be smoother
than Rice's. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said after Rice's
announcement that Kerry would be a "popular choice with the Senate."
Republican, Rob Portman of Ohio, named Kerry as one of Obama's "better
choices" for the spot, according to The New York Times.
But despite his lauded
role assisting Obama in preparing for the presidential debates this
fall, Kerry is understood to be less of an Obama confidante than Rice.
Kerry is a decorated
veteran who served two tours of duty in Vietnam before his career as a
lawyer and then in the U.S. Senate. His assignments there include the
chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Should Kerry step down
before his term ends in 2014, Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, would
appoint a temporary replacement to hold the seat until a special
election could be held. The special election race would likely include
Sen. Scott Brown, who won in a special election three years ago but lost
his bid for a full term, as well as Democratic Rep. Ed Markey, who is
seriously considering a bid should Kerry's seat open, a Democratic
After Rice's Thursday
announcement, Graham said in a statement: "I respect Ambassador Rice's
decision. 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," he continued. "Unfortunately, the White House and
other agencies are stonewalling when it comes to providing the relevant
information. I find this unacceptable."
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New
Hampshire, told CNN after the late November meeting with Rice, Graham,
and McCain, "Certainly she misled the American public."
On Thursday, Ayotte said
she had "respect" for Rice's decision, "however, my concerns regarding
the terrorist attack in Benghazi go beyond any one individual. I remain
deeply troubled by the continued lack of information from the White
House and the State Department. With four of our public servants
murdered, it is critical that we get to the bottom of what happened."
Former CIA Director
David Petraeus, who resigned last month after admitting to an
extramarital affair, returned to Capitol Hill to testify on the attacks,
and Clinton is scheduled to testify next week.
Sen. Susan Collins, the
moderate Republican from Maine, said through a spokesman that the Senate
Homeland Security Committee, where she serves as ranking member, would
continue its investigation into the Benghazi attack. She had raised her
own questions about Rice's potential nomination after a private meeting
with the ambassador.
The Thursday decision
was Rice's own; she was not asked to step aside in the consideration
process, a former administration official who had knowledge of her
"She has got a lot of
honor, a lot of dignity, a lot of patriotism. This was a completely
manufactured distraction, and she was determined to put her country
first," the former official said. "No nominee for secretary of state has
been subjected to such a sustained campaign of politicization and
slander. And it is really troubling."
Madeline Albright, who
was the first woman to serve as secretary of state and has known Rice
for decades, said Rice is "brilliant" and described her withdrawal from
consideration as "sad."
"I think it is
genuinely, genuinely sad because she is one of the smartest people that I
know and completely dedicated to serving the United States," Albright
told CNN. Rice "put the country and the president ahead of her own
ambition. It just shows what a tremendously thoughtful and good and
responsible person she is."
In her letter to Obama, Rice wrote "the position of secretary of state should never be politicized."
"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," she wrote. "We can not afford such an irresponsible
distraction from the most pressing issues facing the American people."
Rice served in President
Bill Clinton's administration on the National Security Council,
eventually leading African affairs for the council and serving as a
special assistant to the president.
She was confirmed by the Senate as the top diplomat to the U.N. in January 2009.
If Rice had been
nominated, she would have faced criticism from religious leaders about
her role in the Clinton administration's handling of the Rwandan
genocide in the 1990s.
U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers,
chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said on CNN
that Rice's decision was "probably for the best."
"I think Ambassador Rice was facing an uphill battle in the senate for any confirmation she may have received," he said.