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Obama: Susan Rice 'highly qualified,' but no decision yet on secretary of State

Obama on Tuesday continued his staunch defense of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, while insisting no decision had been made on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s replacement.

Obama was asked during an interview with Bloomberg TV whether he would look "weak" by not appointing Rice to the top diplomatic post amid attacks from congressional Republicans over her response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.

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"No," Obama replied. "I don't really spend a lot of time on what folks say on cable news programs attacking highly-qualified personnel like Susan Rice. I'm going to make a decision about who is going to be the best secretary of State given we've got a changing world."

Rice is widely seen as one of Obama’s top choices for the post, but has faced strong opposition from GOP lawmakers who have vowed to block her possible nomination.

In Sunday show interviews after the Benghazi attack, Rice drew a link between the violence and simultaneous protests in the region over an anti-Islam YouTube video. But it was later revealed that the incident, which left four Americans dead, was terrorism. Republicans have questioned if Rice and the Obama administration hid this information for political gain.

Obama has steadfastly defended Rice as having relied on talking points provided by the intelligence community, and on Tuesday reiterated his belief that she has "done a great job as U.N. ambassador."

Obama was also asked about whether he would consider appointing someone from the business community to his administration in the coming year. The president was criticized by some Republicans for failing to do so in his first term.

Obama said he would "love to do it," and that it was something he "would have loved to have done in his first term." But the president warned that contentious confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill were driving away potential public servants.

"I'll be honest with you, one of the biggest problems we've had in terms of recruiting business leaders into the administration is the confirmation process has become so miserable, so drawn out, that for successful folks to want to put themselves through that process — you know a lot of folks are just shying away," Obama said.

The president expressed optimism that the tenor of confirmation hearings might change in a second term — a possible reference to the anticipated fight if Rice is nominated to head the State Department.

"You have to put your life on hold, you might get caught up in some partisan battle up on the Hill that has nothing to do with your own qualifications, and so one of the things I hope for in my second term is the confirmation process goes forward in a much smoother fashion," Obama said.