“If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me,” he said. “I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and besmirch her reputation is outrageous.”
But White House attempts to mollify critics and round up support by sending Rice to Capitol Hill for two days of meetings last month backfired when moderates such as Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) declined to endorse her.
Collins’s criticism was a red flag for the administration. Along with new Republican charges this week that Rice had mishandled diplomatic tasks when she served as the Bill Clinton administration’s chief diplomat on Africa, Rice and the White House began to believe that the cause was not worth the price.
The Africa charges, a senior Obama official said, “indicated that they were going to keep going — once they ran out of one issue, they would manufacture another.”
By last Sunday, Rice said in the interview, “I started very seriously thinking that the costs really outweighed the benefits. That no number of facts or rationality or reason was going to deter those who were determined to make this a political issue.”
In its schedule, the White House said Obama will meet with Rice in the Oval Office on Friday.
Throughout the controversy, Kerry has said little about Rice. On Thursday, he called her “an extraordinarily capable and dedicated public servant.”
“As someone who has weathered my share of political attacks and understands on a personal level just how difficult politics can be,” he said, “I’ve felt for her throughout these last difficult weeks, but I also know that she will continue to serve with great passion and distinction.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said Rice could have been confirmed by the Senate but for the actions of certain Republicans. “The politically motivated attacks on her character from some of my Republican colleagues were shameful,” he said in a statement Thursday.
Rice, 48, was an early Obama backer among Democratic national security experts who had worked in the Clinton White House, where she served on the National Security Council staff. During the 2008 campaign, Hillary Clinton’s team considered Rice’s support for Obama a defection.
After Obama won, he gave Rice the U.N. job, a plum among policy wonks but a post that is not well known nationally. There, she quickly became a White House insider with strong connections among Obama’s close circle of policy advisers. Rice has worked alongside Hillary Clinton without any public hint of discord, although the two were never close.
In a statement issued by the State Department, Clinton called Rice an “indispensable partner” and said they had worked together on difficult issues such as Iran, North Korea, Libya and South Sudan. “Susan has worked tirelessly to advance our nation’s interests and values,” Clinton said. “I am confident that she will continue to represent the United States with strength and skill.”
Rice said she does not think the secretary of state battle will undermine her effectiveness at the United Nations. “They know, because they’ve seen it firsthand, that I have the full confidence of the president,” she said.
Scott Wilson and Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.