Report: Rice Frontrunner To Be Obama’s National Security Adviser

Saturday, 09 Mar 2013 08:05 PM

By Paul Scicchitano

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U.N. ambassador Susan Rice, who abruptly withdrew her name from consideration to be secretary of state after a standoff with Republican senators, has emerged as a frontrunner for a different job in the Obama administration — one that doesn’t require Senate confirmation — potentially giving President Obama the last word on the embattled diplomat.

Citing an “administration official familiar with the president’s thinking,” The Washington Post reported on Saturday that Rice is a heavy front-runner to become the next national security advisor after Thomas E. Donilon steps down from the job.

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Rice’s decision to remove herself from contention for the secretary of state job, cleared the way for former Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton. Rice withdrew when it became clear her political troubles were not going away, and support inside the White House for her potential nomination had been waning.

Obama had harbored hopes of picking Rice, 48, as the nation's chief diplomat. She was an early foreign policy adviser to him when he ran for president in 2008 and became the first black woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She was widely seen as the natural replacement for Clinton.

But Rice has faced relentless criticism from Republicans about comments she made days after the attack in Libya.

She went on five Sunday television shows on Sept. 16, 2012 to say that preliminary information suggested the assault was the result of protests over an anti-Muslim video that was made in California rather than a premeditated strike.

The video, posted on the Internet under several titles including "Innocence of Muslims," mocked the Prophet Mohammad and portrayed him as a womanizer and a fool.

U.S. intelligence officials have since said that militants with ties to al-Qaida affiliates were involved in the attacks, and acknowledged there were no protests. Rice has said she relied on talking points from the intelligence agencies when she spoke, and Obama has angrily denied suggestions the White House played down terrorist connections for political purposes.

According to the Post, Rice’s staff has attempted to try to rebuild her image by restricting access to the ambassador by mid-level foreign delegates who were suspected of leaking some of the remarks attributed to her in confidential sessions at the United Nations.

For the newly re-elected Obama, Rice's withdrawal was a sharp political setback and a sign of the difficulties the president faced in a time of divided and divisive government. He had already been privately weighing whether picking Rice would cost him political capital he would need on later votes.

When Rice ended the embarrassment by stepping aside, Obama used the occasion to criticize Republicans who were adamantly opposed to her possible nomination.

"While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks, her decision demonstrates the strength of her character," according to the president.

"I am saddened we have reached this point," Rice said in December, 2012.

Obama made clear she would remain in his inner circle, saying he was grateful she would stay as "our ambassador at the United Nations and a key member of my Cabinet and national security team." Rice, too, said in her letter she would be staying.

Rice had become the face of the bungled administration account of what happened in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, when Obama had defiantly declared he would chose her for secretary of state regardless of the political criticism, if he wanted.

In a letter to Obama, Rice said she was convinced the confirmation process would be "lengthy, disruptive and costly." The letter was part of a media rollout aimed at upholding her reputation. It included an NBC News interview in which she said her withdrawal "was the best thing for our country."

"Those of you who know me know that I'm a fighter, but not at the cost of what's right for our country," she tweeted later.

Her efforts to satisfy Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte and Susan Collins in unusual, private sessions on Capitol Hill fell short. The Republicans emerged from the meetings still expressing doubts about her qualifications.

House Democratic women had cast the criticism of Rice as sexist and racist — she is African-American — and some expressed disappointment with the news.

Rice did not have a strong relationship with members of the Senate. Graham, who is the top Republican on the Appropriations subcommittee that handles foreign aid and the State Department, said he barely knew her.

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Rice conceded in private meetings with lawmakers that her initial account — that a spontaneous demonstration over an anti-Muslim video produced in the U.S. triggered the attack — was wrong, but she has insisted she was not trying to mislead the American people. Information for her account was provided by intelligence officials.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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