At his first Cabinet meeting since the election, President Obama Wednesday thanked administration leaders for their service and the low-turnover among their ranks during his first term, singling out U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for specific praise.
“Susan Rice is extraordinary — I couldn’t be prouder of the job she has done as ambassador,” he said to the officials gathered in the room after reporters lobbed a question about whether he will nominate her to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.
Reporters were only allowed into the room for the president’s opening remarks, and during that brief time, Mr. Obama only mentioned other individual Cabinet secretaries when he recognized the birthdays of Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, which are Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
Ms. Rice has spent the last two months in the hot seat over her initial statements on the Sunday news shows that the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi was a spontaneous event arising from protests over an anti-Islam film rather than a premeditated terrorist attack, as the White House and other government officials later deemed it.
On Tuesday Ms. Rice met for about an hour with a trio of GOP critics on Capitol Hill, Republican Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte, who threatened to block her nomination if Mr. Obama chooses her for secretary of state or another top post in his second-term Cabinet.
In the closed-door session, Ms. Rice conceded delivering an inaccurate account about the nature of the assault, but the senators said the meeting raised more questions than it answered. The senators said they left the meeting more confused about why the State Department hadn’t reacted to increased security risks in the area and who had made changes to the Beghazi talking points that Ms. Rice used to prepare for the Sunday show appearances.
Mr. Graham afterward said he would move to block the nomination of “anybody” who was linked to the Benghazi events.
The White House responded by escalating its attacks on Ms. Rice’s Republican critics, with its spokesman saying the lawmakers are “obsessed” with the talking points and the series of television appearances Ms. Rice made.
Citing an ongoing investigation into exactly who carried out the assault on Benghazi that claimed the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, Mr. Carey said the focus on Ms. Rice is “purely political” as well as “misplaced and misguided.”
“The questions that remain that need to be answered have to do with what happened in Benghazi, who was responsible for the deaths of four Americans, including our ambassador, and what steps we need to take to ensure that something like that doesn’t happen again,” Mr. Carney said Tuesday.