By Justin Sink and Julian Pecquet - 06/06/13 12:18 AM EDT
President Obama on Wednesday named Susan Rice — the public face of the Benghazi controversy — as his national security adviser.
The decision elevates the U.N. ambassador to the most powerful foreign relations role in the White House, ensuring Rice will have the president’s ear on top issues.
“I am absolutely thrilled she’ll be back at my side, leading my national security team in my second term,” Obama said in a Rose Garden ceremony.
Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the Sept. 11, 2012, attack, which Rice, relying on administration talking points, blamed on an anti-Islam film.
Obama is “not at all” concerned Rice’s appointment would further inflame the GOP on Benghazi, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
He added that there had been “ample demonstration” that Rice’s controversial comments were based on faulty intelligence assessments and that it would be “irresponsible” to suggest otherwise.
Rice’s selection is “another data point that GOP Benghazi attacks on Rice were baseless and debunked,” former White House national security spokesman Tommy Vietor tweeted.
In a subsequent interview, Vietor said her appointment was “further vindication … that the attacks on her have been baseless, petty and political.”
“This is about him wanting the best team in place to advise him on and execute his foreign policy,” Vietor said. “It’s not about a petty right-wing hobbyhorse.”
Obama did not even mention Benghazi during the Rose Garden ceremony announcing Rice’s selection. He declared himself “extraordinarily proud” of her tenure at the United Nations.
Democratic strategist James Carville said Rice’s appointment was “an in-your-face appointment.”
“It’s like a message that he’s going to stick by. He views her as a competent person and probably as a friend of his,” Carville told MSNBC.
Republicans signaled a willingness to work with Rice, whose position as national security adviser is not subject to Senate confirmation. She would replace Tom Donilon, who will stay on the job until July.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a leading Benghazi critic, tweeted that he would make “every effort” to work with Rice.
Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations panel who has previously criticized Rice, said he accepted the president’s decision.
“Now that the president has made a decision on his replacement, I had a very good conversation with Ambassador Susan Rice to let her know I look forward to working with her on shaping important foreign policy and national security issues as she serves in her new role,” Corker said.
A year ago, he had described Rice as “somebody who’s had every drop of Kool-Aid” and sounds “like she’d be a great head of the Democratic National Committee.”
Carney said the White House was “very pleased” by the reception to Rice.
Obama nominated former national security aide Samantha Power to replace Rice at the U.N., calling on the Senate to confirm her “without delay.”
Power carries her own political baggage, most notably her comment calling Hillary Clinton a “monster” during the 2008 campaign.
She has long advocated for the development of a “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine of intervention in countries where civilians are endangered and pushed for a U.S. role in Libya two years ago as head of the National Security Council’s Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights. That could spell trouble with Tea Party Republicans.
But her biggest challenge may be controversial comments about Israel during a speech in 2002, when she appeared to voice support for a “meaningful” U.S. military presence as a way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some conservatives have concluded she was calling for the United States to invade Israel.
Carney insisted Wednesday that the White House was not girding for a contentious confirmation battle.
“We would not expect one,” he said. “Obviously, the Senate will fulfill its responsibilities here, hopefully with speed as well as deliberation.”