By Justin Sink - 06/05/13 07:11 PM EDT
President Obama on Wednesday appointed U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to replace Tom Donilon as White House national security adviser in a ceremony at the Rose Garden.
"I am absolutely thrilled she'll be back at my side, leading my national security team in my second term," Obama said.
The president praised her tenure at the United Nations, saying he was "extraordinarily proud" of her work.
The selection of Rice comes despite heavy criticism over her comments following the terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, when she suggested in a series of television appearances that the violence had grown spontaneously out of protests over an anti-Islam video.
The White House later acknowledged that the incident was a planned terror attack and said Rice’s comments were based on early intelligence assessments. Republicans, though, questioned whether administration officials sought to downplay terrorism ahead of the November 2012 elections.
Rice had been considered a top candidate to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton but withdrew her name from consideration after intense Republican scrutiny.
Rice will not face a Senate confirmation hearing, so Republicans will have no say in her appointment as national security adviser.
Obama made no mention of the controversy in his announcement, simply praising his pick as "passionate and pragmatic" and noting she could throw "the occasional elbow."
In her comments, Rice said she was "deeply grateful" for the president's "enduring confidence" in her abilities.
Earlier Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney was peppered with questions about the selection of Rice.
The administration spokesman insisted Obama was "not at all" concerned her appointment would further fuel the Benghazi controversy. Carney added there had been "ample demonstration" that Rice's controversial comments were based on erroneous intelligence assessments and that it would be "irresponsible" to suggest otherwise.
Top Republicans on Wednesday expressed a reluctant willingness to work with Rice.
“Obviously I disagree w/ POTUS appointment of Susan Rice as Nat'l Security Adviser, but I'll make every effort to work w/ her on imp't issues,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) tweeted.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he told Rice during a private meeting ahead of her appointment that he looked forward to working with her.
But other lawmakers, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), said the appointment raised concerns about the president’s foreign policy.
“I still have a great deal of questions,” Paul told Fox News, “I really question the president's judgment in promoting someone who was complicit in misleading the American public.”
Republicans could use the nomination of Power, a longtime Obama aide who left the White House in January, as a proxy battle for their frustrations with Rice.
Power will need Senate confirmation to assume her post as U.N. ambassador.
On Wednesday, Obama said he would "strongly urge the Senate to confirm her without delay."
Power could also face criticism for a 2002 interview in which she suggested "external intervention" might be necessary in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Carney on Wednesday said it was "not true" to suggest Power had an anti-Israel record.
"Samantha Power is a proven friend and supporter of Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship," Carney said. "And she will continue to carry that forward as our next U.N. ambassador."
The president and administration officials also sought to downplay reports that Donilon was exiting the White House amid a tense relationship with new White House chief of staff Denis McDonough. A recent Foreign Policy magazine profile of Donilon suggested he and McDonough were often in conflict.
In his remarks, the president was effusive in praising his top intelligence official, crediting him with overseeing the operation to kill Osama bin Laden and playing a critical role in a "rebalance" of American foreign policy.
"Tom's that rare combination of the strategic and the tactical," Obama said. "He has a strategic sense of where we need to go, and he has a tactical sense of how to get there."