Clinton critic, Biden staffer among rumored replacements for Susan Rice

The Obama adviser who once called Hillary Clinton a “monster” and Vice President Biden's national security advisor have emerged as two of the top candidates to take over as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations if Susan Rice gets nominated to become secretary of State.

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Speculation about Rice's future intensified this week after President Obama defended her account of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi and all but challenged her Republican critics to a fight over her nomination. 

If he goes forward with it, the administration has lined up two White House insiders — Samantha Power and Antony Blinken — to possibly take over at the UN.

“Should I choose, if I think that she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity of the State Department, then I will nominate her,” Obama said about Rice during his press conference Wednesday. “That's not a determination that I’ve made yet.”

A former policy adviser to the president's reelection campaign told The Hill that “both [Power and Blinken] are extremely capable and smart, and they clearly have the confidence of the president.” 

A third person, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council Eileen Donahoe, has also been mentioned as a possible contender.

Power runs the Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights at the National Security Council after serving as a senior adviser on foreign policy during the 2008 campaign. She was forced to resign from the campaign after calling Clinton a “monster” during the bruising primary.

Blinken is a former Hill staffer who served as Democratic staff director to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2002 to 2008 under then-Sen. Joe Biden. He served on the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition team and is now Biden's advisor for national security policy.

And Donahoe is a former California lawyer who chaired the National Women for Obama Finance Committee during the 2008 presidential campaign. Like Power, she is also a human rights scholar.

All three candidates would be respected by their fellow UN diplomats for their close ties to the president, said Jeffrey Laurenti, a UN expert at the liberal Century Foundation. They all lack the public recognition of past ambassadors such as Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), who had served in Congress for 14 years, or former Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.), however.

“The most important ingredient is being able to convince your fellow ambassadors that you have a direct channel to the president or the highest levels of government policy making,” Laurenti told The Hill in an interview. “The degree to which you do that, which Susan has certainly done, you have clout within the body.”

Laurenti said having a public profile can help persuade foreign diplomats that the ambassador can “make a deal stick” and “deliver the Congress or at least prevent the Congress from … being a problem.”

“Part of your job,” he said, “is also having to explain to this highly critical audience how U.S. policy is or isn't compatible with what the rest of the international community is ready to use the UN machinery to accomplish.”

Blinken could likely count on support in the Senate because of his experience there, but none of the rumored candidates are particularly controversial. The Senate, in any case, generally gives presidents wide latitude to nominate who they want for the post.

Rice was confirmed unanimously, and only staunch UN critic John Bolton, who had to be recess-appointed, has run into strong opposition in recent years.

“I think anyone would have an easy time who has the experience and the credentials,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told The Hill. “I haven't seen too much fuss made over this particular position," except for Bolton.

Power's past criticism of Clinton — since retracted — is also seen as unlikely to hurt her chances because of potential objections from the State Department. 

Obama has largely carved out the U.S. mission to the UN for himself, by making the ambassador a Cabinet-level position and installing 2008 primary campaign supporter Esther Brimmer atop the State Department's bureau that handles UN policy.

Choosing Power — or Donahoe — could also energize the human rights community.

Boxer, who chairs the panel's subcommittee on human rights, said “of course” she would welcome the nomination of a UN ambassador with strong human rights credentials.

“This is America. We value and treasure human rights for everyone in the world,” Boxer said. “So it's always a plus to have someone who has stood up for human rights.”

Brad Adams, the Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told The Hill his organization would be “thrilled to have someone who's had a long-lasting commitment to human rights in that position.” He made it clear he wasn't endorsing any particular candidate, however.

Laurenti cautioned that Power may in fact have more power to shape human rights policy in her current role — she's seen as a major proponent of Obama's decision to intervene in Libya — than at the UN.

“They're right to be excited if it shows that somebody coming out of the human rights community can get a high-ranking job,” he said. “I am not sure that there are that many issues coming through New York where her being there, rather than where she is now, would change the outcomes much.”