Smarting over Senate Republicans' criticism of envoy Susan E. Rice that ended her chances of becoming secretary of state, the White House took an apparent swipe Friday at Sen. John McCain's pick of Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate in 2008.
"The leading critics of Ambassador Rice, with their wildly unfounded assertions, have a spotty record at best when it comes to making judgments about who is qualified for high office in this country," said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
Asked to elaborate, Mr. Carney wouldn't. "You'll have to deduce," he told reporters.
But with a four-year-long history of bad blood between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama, the reference appeared to be a shot at Mr. McCain's selection of Mrs. Palin as his running mate in 2008. Mr. McCain has been one of the most outspoken critics of Mrs. Rice's fitness to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Mrs. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told the president Thursday she was withdrawing from consideration to be nominated for secretary of state. The decision followed months of criticism by lawmakers and others about her role in explaining the cause of the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. She told Mr. Obama that her potential nomination battle in the Senate would be a costly distraction from the administration's other priorities.
Asked if administration officials had pressured Mrs. Rice to take herself out of contention, Mr. Carney said no.
"She took this action herself," Mr. Carney said, adding that Mr. Obama "is extremely appreciative of her service."
"It shows a great deal about her character and her priorities," Mr. Carney said of her decision.
Several Republican senators said they had doubts about Mrs. Rice's trustworthiness after she went on TV talk shows five days after the Benghazi attack and said it was a result of widespread Arab protests over an anti-Muslim film produced in the U.S.
Her critics said Mrs. Rice and other administration officials should have known at the time that terrorists were responsible for the assault on the U.S. Consulate. Mrs. Rice said she was simply relaying the best available information at the time provided by U.S. intelligence services.
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