Susan Rice withdrew her name from consideration as US secretary of state on Thursday in the face of what promised to be a difficult Senate confirmation battle.
Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations and a close confidante of President Barack Obama, said she was withdrawing from the process to avoid a lengthy, costly and disruptive confirmation battle.
“That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country,” she wrote in a letter to Obama.
Rice was said to be Obama’s top pick, but a major obstacle emerged in September with her role in the administration’s much-criticised response to the deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
High-profile Republican senators like John McCain were quick to slam Rice for her initial assertion on TV news shows that the incident may have been a spontaneous protest rather than terrorism (as the White House subsequently labelled it). “I will do everything in my power to block her from being the United States Secretary of State,” McCain said on Fox News, alluding menacingly to the confirmation hearings the Senate holds for all presidential cabinet nominees. “She has proven that she either doesn’t understand or she is not willing to accept evidence on its face.”
McCain’s colleague Lindsey Graham echoed the allegation. “I’m not entertaining promoting anybody that I think was involved with the Benghazi debacle,” Graham said on CBS. “Susan Rice needs to be held accountable.”
The Obama administration has argued that Rice should not, in fact, be held accountable, since she was reading on-air from a briefing written by US intelligence agencies.
Obama issued a statement on Thursday saying he accepted Rice’s decision to remove her name from consideration. Obama decried what he called “unfair and misleading attacks” on Rice.
A person familiar with the deliberations told AP news agency on condition of anonymity that support has been trending away from Rice for the past few days.
Senator John Kerry is perceived internally to be the front-runner for the secretary of state position. Former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is also seen as the front-runner for Obama’s next defence secretary.
Hillary Clinton is planning to step down as secretary of state in the coming months. Rice will continue as the US ambassador to the United Nations.