Susan Rice withdrew her name from consideration as President Barack Obama’s next secretary of state, saying a battle over her confirmation would disrupt the administration’s second-term agenda.
Obama accepted her decision while praising Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as “an extraordinarily capable, patriotic, and passionate public servant.”
Rice had come under fire from some Republican senators over statements she made about the deadly Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
“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 wrote in a letter to Obama released by the White House. “That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said she plans to leave as Obama begins his second term. With Rice’s withdrawal, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is a leading contender for the post, according to an administration official, who asked for anonymity because no announcements have been made. A decision isn’t likely to come this week, the official said.
Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for Obama’s National Security Council, declined to say who the president intends to nominate for the post or how soon he will act.
Obama will be reorganizing his national security team for his second term. The president also will be looking to fill the jobs of defense secretary and Central Intelligence Agency director.
Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel has emerged as the leading candidate for the defense post, according to two people familiar with the matter.
In her letter, Rice, 48, said she looked forward to continuing to serve as UN ambassador. Obama also has considered Rice to head the White House National Security Council, which is currently led by Tom Donilon, and his statement on her withdrawal said that she “has limitless capability to serve our country now and in the years to come.”
Kerry, the 2004 Democratic nominee for president, praised Rice in a statement.
“We should all be grateful that she will continue to serve and contribute at the highest level,” he said.
Cabinet nominations are subject to Senate confirmation, and Rice had become a target of Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham over statements she made after the attack on the consulate that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Graham had threatened to hold up Rice’s confirmation if Obama nominated her.
If a confirmation fight developed, Obama would have had to spend political capital, possibly weakening his hand as he moves forward with budget negotiations and an agenda that includes contentious issues such as immigration.
“The position of secretary of state should never be politicized,” Rice wrote in her letter to Obama.
On Sunday interview shows on Sept. 16, she described the assault as a spontaneous protest against an anti-Muslim video that was “hijacked” by extremists, based on unclassified talking points supplied by the U.S. intelligence community.
McCain and Graham were among the Republicans who accused Rice of misleading the public.
“When it comes to Benghazi I am determined to find out what happened -- before, during, and after the attack,” Graham, of South Carolina, said in a statement after Rice’s withdrawal.
Obama has defended Rice and in a Bloomberg News interview Dec. 4 said it wouldn’t be a sign of weakness if he didn’t nominate her in the face of Republican attacks.
“I don’t really spend a lot of time on, you know, what folks say on cable news programs, attacking highly qualified personnel like Susan Rice,” Obama said.