Now that the matter of Susan Rice has been settled with the UN Ambassador removing her name from consideration as President Obama’s next Secretary of State, the way is cleared for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, an ardent support and close adviser to Obama, to glide through as the replacement for Hillary Clinton.
There is bound to be disappointment among Obama’s supporters, as many African Americans were looking at the Susan Rice fight as a signal on whether the president was more willing this term to take on Republicans over issues that are important to the community. And of course many Washington insiders will speculate on whether it was the president who suggested that Rice fall on her sword and take herself out of the race to save him from potentially nasty fall-out if he chose someone like the Massachusetts senior senator and former presidential candidate over her for Secretary of State.
But it was precisely this ugly fight that Rice appeared to be rescuing the president from, based on the letter she sent to Obama, a tweet she sent out, an editorial she wrote in today’s Washington Post and an exclusive interview she did with Brian Williams last night on NBC’s “Rock Center.”
Rice told Williams she feared a “very prolonged, very politicized, very distracting, and very disruptive” confirmation process that would overwhelm the rest of Obama’s agenda.
“We’re talking about comprehensive immigration reform, balanced deficit reduction, job creation—that’s what matters,” she said. “And to the extent that my nomination could have delayed or distracted or deflected, or maybe even some of these priorities impossible to achieve, I didn’t want that.”
“Those of you who know me know that I’m a fighter, but not at the cost of what’s right for our country,” Rice wrote on Twitter.
In Massachusetts, the jockeying has already begun for the seat that would be vacated if Kerry is Obama’s pick. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick was quoted on local television as saying he hadn’t yet decided who would get his nod to fill the seat, but he pointed out that the person would have to run in a special election five months after their appointment, then would have to run again in two years when the seat comes up for reelection. Even outgoing Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, who just got beaten by Elizabeth Warren, made some noises on the floor of Congress that he might be thinking about running again.
But one thing is clear—Obama and the White House are pissed about how all this went down, with Republicans like Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina suggesting that Rice as “incompetent” and unqualified for State because of comments she made on the Sunday morning talk shows in September, repeating CIA talking about about the terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya that killed four people, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Steven.
One administration official said there’s still the possibility Obama could elevate Rice, a close friend of his, to another top administration post, possibly national security adviser if Tom Donilon moves on. The official said Obama “is really angry about the way this went down.”
Many Democrats inside and outside the White House think that Rice’s nomination could have made it through the Senate.
“We think she could have been confirmed,” a White House official said in a story on NJ.com. “She’s been confirmed for two jobs in two different administrations and her record at the U.N. was exceptional and the attacks on Benghazi were baseless and unfair.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada last night issued an angry statement that clearly was referring to his colleagues McCain and Graham without mentioning them by name.
“Ambassador Rice is eminently qualified to serve as secretary of state and she could have been confirmed by the Senate. The politically-motivated attacks on her character from some of my Republican colleagues were shameful,” Reid said. “Ambassador Rice deserved far more respect than she was shown by certain Senate Republicans. Their behavior was a disgrace to the Senate’s tradition of bipartisan cooperation on national security issues, and beneath the stature of senators with otherwise distinguished records on national security.”
“This is the type of thing that when people complain about why there aren’t more good people in public service, this is a great example. And there are people who are directly accountable for this,” said Mark Kornblau, Rice’s former spokesman at the UN.
“They have harmed the reputation of somebody who is of extraordinary intellect, is in it for the right reasons and served her country with distinction,” he added. “They’ve also sent a message to other people who might be considering serving their country that the personal costs may be too high even if you do it right and play by the rules.”
On the Democratic side, strategist Donna Brazile said on Twitter, “The boys network is alive and well. The war on qualified women continues here in Washington, DC. I am not going to stand down.”
Asked by Brian Williams if she wanted the job, Rice said: “I would have been very honored to serve in that job, just as I’m delighted to do what I’m doing. But yeah, sure, how can you not want, in my field, serve at the highest possible level.”
Of her conversation with the president, Rice replied, “It was very warm, it was very relaxed. We are going to keep doing our best together and I look forward to being a key member of his national security team.”