The Washington Post

Rice nomination and White House musical chairs

White House observers note an interesting game of musical chairs underway — or maybe dominoes is more appropriate — with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice at the center.

Here’s what we’re hearing is the state of play amongst some very interested parties.

While it’s well known that Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett is (after Obama himself) Rice’s biggest supporter to be nominated as secretary of state, self interest has created a coalition of strange bedfellows who are also backing her, despite the deepening opposition from Republicans in Congress.

(Warning: This may require a scorecard.)

Now here’s the line up: Tom Donilon, the current national security adviser, is said to want to keep his job for another two years.

If Rice gets the nod for SecState and Obama rolls the GOP opposition, the feeling is that Donilon’s safe. If she doesn’t get the nomination, she would be a logical choice to replace Donilon as national security adviser.

Now, if Donilon stays in his job, the word is that his current deputy, Denis McDonough, has been promised the top spot in two years when Donilon would leave.

But if Rice becomes national security adviser, McDonough is stuck. (Unless McDonough becomes chief of staff, a job which we’re hearing is going to be open because incumbent Jack Lew is leaving, either to be Treasury secretary or, if not, then likely to return to New York to be with his family.)

Samantha Power, a special assistant to the president, is said to be looking to get Rice’s current job as U.N. ambassador, so she has thrown her support behind the Rice nomination. This despite Power having written an article in Atlantic Monthly in 2001 that claimed Rice had tried to stop Clinton administration officials from describing events in Rwanda as a “genocide.” (At the time, Rice was on President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council.)

Meanwhile, there is some movement among White House insiders to walk away from the Rice nomination. The argument is that Obama would have to spend too much political capital defending Rice and might come up empty on the fiscal cliff.

This argument, while not carrying the day at this point, has gained currency as opposition to Rice has deepened in the Republican caucus.

This is the sort of game that could only be played in Washington — or in the Kremlin in the good old days.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.


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