The US Republican senators who fiercely opposed Susan Rice’s bid to become secretary of state welcomed her decision to back down Thursday, while Democrats voiced their disappointment.
The UN ambassador, a close ally of President Barack Obama, had been a frontrunner to replace Hillary Clinton as Washington’s top diplomat but fell foul of a row over the administration’s reaction to the Benghazi attacks.
“I think it’s the right decision,” Republican Senator John Barrasso told reporters. “Her reporting after the 9/11 attacks, to me, was when she disqualified herself for that position.”
Rice withdrew her name from consideration after it became clear that her confirmation hearings would be dominated by criticism of her public statements about the September attack on a US consulate in eastern Libya.
“She is a nice lady and I’m sorry for her but I think it’s probably a wise thing under the circumstances,” Republican Senator Orrin Hatch told AFP.
Liberal Democrat Bernie Sanders said he believed Rice had been unfairly treated by Republicans.
“The Republicans made the Benghazi tragedy and the loss of life into a very partisan political issue, and that’s unfortunate,” Sanders said.
Conservatives turned on Rice after she appeared on television talk shows five days after the attack and used flawed intelligence briefing notes to portray the assault as a spontaneous demonstration against an anti-Islam video.
It transpired that the attack, which took place during a fraught US presidential race and left four Americans dead including US ambassador Chris Stevens, had been orchestrated by a local militia with Al-Qaeda ties.
Alleging a cover-up, some Republicans, including Senator John McCain, had openly threatened to block Rice’s nomination should Obama choose her, which he at first seemed poised to do, publicly standing by her.
“Senator McCain thanks Ambassador Rice for her service to the country and wishes her well,” his spokesman Brian Rogers said in a statement.
“He will continue to seek all the facts about what happened before, during and after the attack on our consulate in Benghazi that killed four brave Americans.”
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley said he never came out for or against Rice, insisting he would have given her a fair Senate hearing, but that her decision to withdraw was the right one.
“It’s the easiest for everybody,” he said.
Several Democrats, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Chris Coons, said they were startled to hear of Rice’s decision.
“I think she has represented us admirably in the United Nations and held up well under very difficult circumstances,” he said.
Asked if he felt Rice had been unfairly treated, Coons hesitated, saying “I’m disappointed that she withdrew her name.”
Senator Patrick Leahy, a veteran Democrat, said he too was surprised at the move. “I believe she was eminently well qualified for secretary of state.”
Most senators who spoke to reporters, Democrats as well as Republicans, concurred that Senator John Kerry was now a front-runner for the job.
“I think he’d have an easy confirmation,” Grassley said.