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Kerry New Frontrunner For Secretary Of State After Rice Bows Out

FILE - UN Ambassador Susan Rice (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

FILE – UN Ambassador Susan Rice (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) – Susan Rice, the embattled U.N. ambassador, abruptly withdrew from consideration to be the next secretary of state on Thursday after a bitter, weeks long standoff with Republican senators who declared they would fight to defeat her nomination.

The reluctant announcement makes Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry the likely choice to be the nation’s next top diplomat when Hillary Rodham Clinton departs soon.

Rice withdrew when it became clear her political troubles were not going away and support inside the White House for her potential nomination had been waning in recent days, administration officials said.

Rice had become the face of the bungled administration account of what happened in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, when four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were killed in what is now known to have been a terrorist attack.

President Barack Obama had defiantly declared he would choose her for secretary of state regardless of the political criticism, if he wanted, but such a choice could have gotten his second term off to a turbulent start with Capitol Hill.

When Rice announced she would be stepping aside, Obama used the occasion to criticize Republicans who were adamantly opposed to her possible nomination.

“While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks, her decision demonstrates the strength of her character,” he said in a statement.

Long Island Rep. Peter King, who is also chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said she did the right thing by withdrawing her name.

“That was such a serious pattern of errors she made on that day,” he said. “She did the right thing. Obviously, I disagree with what she had done during those shows, but having said that, I think overall she has a very good record.”

Obama made clear she would remain in his inner circle, saying he was grateful she would stay as “our ambassador at the United Nations and a key member of my Cabinet and national security team.” Rice, too, said in her letter she would be staying.

Clinton, in a brief statement, said that Rice had “been an indispensable partner over the past four years” and that she was confident “that she will continue to represent the United States with strength and skill.”

Attention now shifts to Kerry, who came close to winning the presidency in 2004 and has been seen as desiring the State job. In a statement, he made no mention of his own candidacy but praised Rice, who was an adviser to him in his presidential bid.

“John Kerry, he wouldn’t be my choice for secretary of state, but I’m not the president,” King said. “But John Kerry is very able and very competent and I would think that he would have a very easy time being confirmed by the Senate if he is the president’s choice.”

Kerry was an early backer of Obama and was under consideration to become his first secretary of state. Obama has dispatched Kerry to foreign hot spots on his behalf.

Kerry played the role of Republican Mitt Romney during Obama’s presidential debate preparations this year.

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