What Susan Rice’s withdrawal means

December 13, 2012

The decision by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice to withdraw her name from consideration to be the next Secretary of State is a bow to political reality as it defuses a near-certain showdown between the Obama Administration and Republican Senators over her potential nomination.

"I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks [but] 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," said President Obama in a statement released moments after the news was broken by NBC.

In truth, the writing had been on the wall regarding the difficulty of a Rice nomination for weeks.  Fair or not, Republicans had seized on Rice as the face of the September attacks in Benghazi that left four diplomats including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya dead.

That opposition included some of the usual suspects -- Arizona Sen. John McCain, for example -- but also people like Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker.  Combine that broad spectrum of Republican opposition to her nomination with the fact that there were a number of Senate Democrats -- many of whom are up for reelection in 2014 in swing and Republican-leaning states -- that didn't want to have to vote on someone as controversial as Rice and it had become clear that her nomination would be dead on arrival.

Rice, in a statement announcing her decision to revoke her name from consideration, acknowledged the political trouble she would certainly have caused. "If nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly," Rice said. "That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country."

And, in pulling herself from consideration, Rice spares President Obama the need to make a go/no-go decision on nominating her that could have had real ripple effects on not only the ongoing fiscal cliff negotiations but his second term as well.

With Rice now out of the mix for Secretary of State, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry becomes a very strong favorite to succeed Hillary Clinton in the job. Kerry has made clear he is interested in the position and, even while attacking Rice, Republicans like Collins have suggested that their colleague would be easily confirmed.

Assuming Kerry is the pick for State, that means that chatter about him as Secretary of Defense when Leon Panetta steps down, a move that is expected to come sometime in 2013, will disappear.  Bloomberg reported today that former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel was the leading candidate to be the next Defense Secretary but one senior White House aide insisted that "no decisions have been made".

A Kerry pick would also trigger a 2013 special election to replace him in the Senate with any number of Democratic elected officials as well as soon-to-be former Republican Sen. Scott Brown mentioned as possible candidates.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Chris Cillizza · December 13, 2012