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Rice bows out for Cabinet position

To stay at UN; Kerry becomes likely choice for State

Rice

– 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 vigorously fight 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. Support for the possible choice of Rice had been waning.

In another major part of the upcoming Cabinet shake-up for President 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 coming as soon as next week.

Obama has been weighing whether a Rice nomination would be worth the fight. He accepted her decision 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.

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 choose 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.

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.”

“That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country,” Rice said.

Rice may end up close to Obama’s side in another way, as his national security adviser if Tom Donilon moves on to another position.

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.

She 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.

“The position of secretary of state should never be politicized,” Rice said. “As someone who grew up in an era of comparative bipartisanship and as a sitting U.S national security official who has served in two U.S. administrations, I am saddened that we have reached this point.”

Attention now shifts to Kerry, who came close to winning the presidency in 2004 and has been seen as desiring the State job. In a statement, he made no mention of his own candidacy but praised Rice, who was an adviser to him his in his presidential bid.

Kerry was an early backer of Obama and was under consideration to become his first secretary of state.

Obama has dispatched Kerry to foreign hot spots on his behalf.

Kerry played the role of Republican Mitt Romney during Obama’s presidential debate preparations this year.

Even if Rice had been chosen and confirmed, a contentious Senate fight could have sent her into the job with weakened support and used up some of the tough votes Obama may need from allies in the Senate later.

House Democratic women had cast the criticism of Rice as sexist and racist – she is African-American – and some expressed disappointment with the news.

“If judged fairly based solely on her qualifications for the job, she would’ve made an extraordinary secretary of state,” said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

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