Obama 'couldn't be prouder' of Rice

President Obama offered praise for his embattled and "extraordinary" ambassador to the U.N. on Wednesday. 

"Susan Rice is extraordinary. I couldn't be prouder of the job she's done," Obama said shortly before he was poised to meet with his Cabinet.

The room — which included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, seated next to the president — erupted in applause after the president made the statement. Rice has been widely rumored as a top candidate to replace Clinton, who is resigning at the end of the president's first term.

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Rice has come under fire from congressional Republicans for interviews she gave shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya. In her initial statements, Rice tied the violence, which left four Americans dead, to protests over an anti-Islam YouTube video.

Rice said Tuesday that she had been wrong about the cause of the violence, but was relying on talking points provided by the intelligence community and did not intend to mislead the public. But some high-level Senate Republicans, including John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), said that after meeting with Rice on Tuesday, they remained skeptical of her explanation and would not likely support her potential nomination as secretary of State.

On Wednesday, Rice returned to Capitol Hill for additional meetings, including an almost two-hour session with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). After that meeting, Collins also expressed concerns about Rice's handling of the Benghazi attack.

“I continue to be troubled by the fact that the UN ambassador decided to play what was essentially a political role at the height of a contentious presidential election ... by agreeing to go on the Sunday shows to present the administration's position,” the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee said.

Obama has been a vocal supporter of Rice, saying in a press conference earlier this month that she "had nothing to do with Benghazi" and that Republicans were picking on her because they saw her as an "easy target." The president also challenged GOP lawmakers to "go after me" instead.

"For them to go after a U.N. ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation, is outrageous," Obama said.