After giving a passionate, even angry defense of U.N. ambassador Susan Rice at a press conference a month ago, it seemed as if nothing — specifically, baseless attacks by John McCain and company that Rice intentionally deceived the country about the deadly attack in Benghazi — would stop President Obama from nominating her to become Hillary Clinton’s replacement as secretary of State. But this afternoon, Obama accepted defeat. NBC News broke the news that Rice (presumably in concert with the White House) has withdrawn her name from consideration, citing the bitter partisan environment that would have made it difficult or impossible for her to receive confirmation from the Senate.
“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,” Rice wrote in a letter to President Obama, saying she’s saddened by the partisan politics surrounding her prospects.
“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,” she wrote in the letter obtained by NBC News.
The announcement was foreshadowed earlier in day by a Bloomberg News report calling former Republican senator Chuck Hagel the “leading candidate to become Obama’s next Secretary of Defense.” (Current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to step down at some vague point in the future.) If Hagel was headed for Defense, then John Kerry would presumably be moving to State, leaving Rice as the odd woman out — although there is speculation that she could end up as Obama’s national security adviser, a position which doesn’t require confirmation from people hell-bent on destroying her.
As for Hagel, who was at the White House just last week, his appointment would hardly be surprising. Yes, he’s a Republican, but so was Obama’s first Defense secretary, Bush holdover Robert Gates. And in the Senate, Hagel ended his career as the GOP’s most outspoken critic of the war in Iraq (after initially voting for it, of course). Hagel was also rumored to be in the running for the job when Obama first took office four years ago and already serves on Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board. But, regardless of whether Hagel does end up as Obama’s Defense secretary, the end of the Rice controversy means that the various pieces of Obama’s Cabinet shuffle will finally begin falling into place.