In a shocking move, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has withdrawn her name from consideration to replace outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In a letter obtained and released by NBC News and addressed to President Obama, Rice said, “If nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly. Therefore, I respectfully request that you no longer consider my candidacy at this time.” The Huffington Post reported that President Obama reacted to Rice’s decision by saying, “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.”
Rice’s announcement will probably clear the way for Senator John Kerry to be nominated to replace Clinton and set up a special election for his Massachusetts senate seat. Democratic pundits have been concerned that by nominating Kerry, who will almost assuredly be confirmed without issue, his Massachusetts senate seat will be heavily contested and could possibly be won by outgoing Republican Senator Scott Brown. Brown, who lost his bid for reelection to Elizabeth Warren, originally was elected via a special election to replace the late Senator Ted Kennedy.
Rice, who had come under fire for her role as the administration's spokesperson for the attacks on the Benghazi consulate, which cost the lives of four U.S. citizens, including the U.S. Ambassador, is expected to remain in her role as U.N. Ambassador. Obama said Rice “will continue to serve as our Ambassador at the United Nations and a key member of my cabinet and national security team.”
Political pundits have speculated that Obama’s overt preference for Rice was causing a rift among his key senior advisers and signals were being sent that key Democrats in Washington were suggesting that Obama not leverage his political credibility in the fight to support Rice. Democrats have argued that given the number of major issues, e.g., the fiscal cliff, entitlement reform, immigration, and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, that will require nimbleness and/or the bully pit to see through, the fight to nominate and confirm Rice was not worth the effort.
No doubt Republicans will consider this a victory. Senator John McCain and Lindsey Graham had staked their reputations on being able to block the confirmation of Rice should she have been nominated. Obama seemed ready to do battle with the senators over Rice when he said at a White House news conference, “When they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she's an easy target, then they've got a problem with me.” According to The National Review, McCain’s spokesperson released this statement, “Senator McCain thanks Ambassador Rice for her service to the country and wishes her well.”
Speculation will now return to the makeup of Obama’s second-term administration. It is generally assumed that Obama would like to have his cabinet be representative of the American electorate in general. Specifically, it has been speculated that he would prefer to have the “big four +1” (Secretaries of State, Treasury, and Defense, and Attorney General and Chief of Staff) continue to have a qualified woman in position. Given that Treasury Secretary Geithner is also stepping down, Obama can maintain his goal of diversity by shifting current White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew to Treasury and replacing him with the president's Special Advisor Valerie Jarrett. If Jarrett was named White House Chief of Staff, she would be the first minority and the first female to hold that office. US News and World Report also suggested that Nancy-Ann DeParle, deputy chief of staff, would be a candidate to replace Lew and Michele Flournoy, former undersecretary for defense, is being considered to replace outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. If nominated and confirmed, Flournoy would be the first women to be Secretary of Defense.