Obama Accepts ‘Saddened’ Susan Rice’s Withdrawal From Secretary of State Consideration

December 13, 2012 - 6:13 PM

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Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice , Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry listen to President Obama deliver a speech on Mideast policy at the State Department on May 19, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

(CNSNews.com) – In a move aimed at defusing a potential showdown between President Obama and Senate Republicans, Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Thursday she was withdrawing her name from consideration as Secretary of State.

As first reported by NBC News, Rice in a letter to Obama requested that he no longer consider her as a possible candidate to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who plans to leave the post soon.

Rice wrote that if she were to be 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. That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country.”

Rice became a focal point for Republican frustration over the administration’s handling of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which cost the lives of U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

On the Sunday after the deadly incident the White House put Rice forward to relay the message on television talk shows that the attack – according to the best information available at the time – had been a “spontaneous reaction” to an obscure online video denigrating Mohammed.

Only later did the administration concede it was a terrorist attack, with a likely al-Qaeda link. Some GOP critics saw Rice’s television appearances as an attempt to play down the terrorism angle as it did not suit the “narrative” of a declining threat in the closing stages of the election campaign. A number of senators indicated they would oppose her if nominated.

“The position of Secretary of State should never be politicized,” Rice wrote in her letter to the president. “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. We cannot afford such an irresponsible distraction from the most pressing issues facing the American people.”

In a statement, Obama said he had spoken to Rice and accepted her decision.

As he has done in recent weeks, he warmly praised her achievements as ambassador to the U.N. and said he was pleased she would continue to serve in that role.

“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,” he said.

“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. The American people can be proud to have a public servant of her caliber and character representing our country.”

With Rice out of consideration, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is widely viewed as the likeliest contender for a position the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman has long been keen to hold.

Kerry on Thursday called Rice “an extraordinarily capable and dedicated public servant.”

“We should all be grateful that she will continue to serve and contribute at the highest level,” he said. “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.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who declared last month he would not support a cabinet post for “anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle,” issued a statement Thursday saying he respected Rice’s decision to withdraw her name.

“President Obama has many talented people to choose from to serve as our next Secretary of State,” he said.

Graham accused the White House and other agencies of “stonewalling when it comes to providing the relevant information” about Benghazi and reiterated his determination to “get to the bottom of what happened.”