Evan Vucci, AP
WASHINGTON — Susan Rice, the embattled U.N. ambassador, abruptly withdrew from consideration to be the next secretary of state on Thursday after a bitter, weekslong standoff with Republican senators who declared they would fight to defeat her nomination.
The reluctant announcement makes Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry the likely choice to be the nation's next top diplomat when Hillary Rodham Clinton departs soon. Rice withdrew when it became clear her political troubles were not going away, and support inside the White House for her potential nomination had been waning in recent days, administration officials said.
In another major part of the upcoming Cabinet shake-up for President Barack Obama's second term, former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska now is seen as the front-runner to be defense secretary, with official word expected as soon as next week.
Obama had been weighing whether a Rice nomination would be worth the fight. He accepted her withdrawal with a shot at Republicans.
"While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks, her decision demonstrates the strength of her character," he said.
If Obama taps Kerry for State, the president will create a potential problem for Democrats by opening a Senate seat — one that recently defeated Republican Sen. Scott Brown is eyeing. Brown had been elected as Massachusetts' other senator in January 2010 after Democrat Ted Kennedy died, stunning the political world as he took the seat held by Kennedy for decades. Brown lost that seat in the November election.
Rice had become the face of the bungled administration account of what happened in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012 when four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were killed in what is now known to have been a terrorist attack.
Obama had defiantly declared he would chose her for secretary of state regardless of the political criticism, if he wanted, but such a choice could have depleted him of capital and gotten his second term off to a turbulent start with Capitol Hill. Already, Rice's withdrawal underscored Obama's difficulty in pursuing his next agenda in a time of divided and divisive government.
Rice withdrew her name in a letter to Obama — and in a media rollout aimed at upholding her reputation.
She said she was convinced the confirmation process would be "lengthy, disruptive and costly — to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities."
In an interview with NBC News, she said her withdrawal "was the best thing for our country."
Rice may end up close to Obama's side in another way, as his national security adviser should Tom Donilon move on to another position, though that is not expected imminently. The security adviser position would not require Senate confirmation.
Obama made clear she would remain in his inner circle, saying he was grateful she would stay as "our ambassador at the United Nations and a key member of my Cabinet and national security team." Rice, too, said in her letter she would be staying.
The White House said Obama would meet with Rice Friday afternoon.
Rice would have faced strong opposition from Senate Republicans who challenged her much-maligned televised comments about the cause of the deadly raid on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Her efforts to satisfy Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte and Susan Collins in unusual, private sessions on Capitol Hill fell short. The Republicans emerged from the meetings still expressing doubts about her qualifications.
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