WASHINGTON — Embattled U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice took the hit on Thursday, asking President Barack Obama to not nominate her for secretary of state because she would face a bruising confirmation fight — a headache Obama did not need.
Rice phoned Obama before sending him a letter on Thursday requesting he not consider her to replace departing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The White House confirmed that Rice will be meeting with Obama on Friday afternoon.
The episode represents a win for Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who vowed during the presidential campaign and after that they would block her confirmation if Obama tapped her for the post.
Rice, who is close to the president — she backed Obama early in his 2008 Democratic primary bid against Clinton, even though she was part of the Bill Clinton White House — was seen as one of Obama’s top choices to replace Clinton.
With Rice out of the picture, the front-runner is seen as Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who would be confirmed in an instant.
Rice, wildly popular within the Obama White House, got into trouble with McCain and Graham in the heat of Obama’s campaign against Mitt Romney because her initial explanations about the Sept. 11 raid on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where a U.S. ambassador and three other diplomats were murdered, turned out to be incorrect. McCain and Graham were outraged.
After a meeting intended to smooth relations with GOP senators between Rice and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) went poorly, Rice’s fate was sealed.
In her letter to Obama, Rice wrote, “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. That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country.
… Therefore, I respectfully request that you no longer consider my candidacy at this time.”
Obama, in turn, said in a statement, “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 adviser and friend.
“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.”
Obama said at a press conference in November, just after his reelection, that if McCain and Graham have a problem with Rice, “they should go after me.”
They did — through Rice.