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Rice Drops Out Of Race For Secretary Of State


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, is not usually one to back down from a fight. But in taking herself out of the running to become the next secretary of state, she has avoided a bruiser in the Senate. Rice has been under fire from Republicans, who accuse her of misleading Americans about the attack in Libya that left a U.S. ambassador dead. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on what prompted this decision now.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: In her letter to President Obama, Susan Rice says she's convinced that if she were to be nominated, the confirmation process would be costly for the White House. And she told NBC's "Rock Center" with Brian Williams, the administration doesn't need any distractions.

AMBASSADOR SUSAN RICE: I didn't want to see a confirmation process that was very prolonged, very politicized, very distracting and very disruptive because there are so many things that we need to get done as a country.

KELEMEN: Rice says she will continue to serve as ambassador to the U.N., though she would have liked a promotion.

RICE: Yeah, sure, how could you not want to, in my field serve at the highest possible level?

KELEMEN: President Obama says he regrets what he calls the unfair and misleading attacks on Rice. It all started in September, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declined to go on the Sunday talk shows to discuss the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya. So the White House turned to Ambassador Rice. She tells NBC she has no regrets, though she got caught up in what she calls a political vortex.

RICE: From my point of view, it's almost an out of body experience. You know, I know who I am. I see myself on the television screen in all my different outfits and I hear things said about me that I know don't bear any relation to who I am.

KELEMEN: Her critics on Capitol Hill blasted her for repeating administration talking points on Benghazi that turned out to be wrong. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, who had threatened to block Rice's nomination, says he respects her decision to withdraw as a candidate for secretary of state. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa says he would have given Rice a day in court, but adds he was glad she pulled out.

REPRESENTATIVE CHUCK GRASSLEY: It's the easiest for everybody. It's got nothing to say what kind of secretary of state she'd make because I don't believe I can make a judgment on that right now.

KELEMEN: Speculation is now turning to Senator John Kerry as a potential secretary of state nominee. Grassley says the Massachusetts Democrat would be easily confirmed if President Obama taps him.

GRASSLEY: Even if we don't agree with Senator Kerry on some of the domestic issues, we think that he has handled foreign relations as chairman pretty good, and so I think he'd have an easy confirmation.

KELEMEN: Kerry said in a statement that he's worked closely with Rice and pointed out that she was one of his advisors when he ran for president. Kerry said he felt for her throughout these difficult weeks. He did not mention whether he would like to replace Hillary Clinton, who plans to step down at the end of this term.

Michael Mandelbaum, who teaches American foreign policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies says the secretary of state is usually the one cabinet job that remains above partisan rancor. But Rice was facing a lot of opposition.

MICHAEL MANDELBAUM: A partisan tinge to the office is certainly not unprecedented but substantial opposition in a confirmation vote for this particular office really would be, as far as I can remember, without precedent and that may be one of the factors motivating this withdrawal.

KELEMEN: Rice's withdrawal won't end the debate over what happened in Benghazi, Libya and how the administration portrayed it. Members of Congress say they expect to hear from Secretary Clinton next week once she gets a report from her review board. The State Departments says that panel is still working. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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