President Barack Obama is expected to announce he’s naming United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice as his new national security adviser. Second term teams are often about bringing in longtime friends, allies and appointees that Presidents want, rather than big names people expect them to have. Rice, who early in 2007 betrayed her Clinton roots to endorse Obama, is one such friend.
Rice was originally Obama’s top pick to succeed Hillary Clinton at State, a job that eventually went to John Kerry. Obama felt Rice, with whom he often dines, would know his mind without him having to tell her what to do. But Republicans objected to Rice because five days after the Benghazi attack in September she went on the Sunday shows blaming outrage over American-made video ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed for the attack, rather than terrorists. Republicans say she was politicizing the incident, trying to protect Obama’s claim that he’d rooted out al Qaeda. Democrats say she was speaking from talking points approved by the Central Intelligence Agency. Rice tried and failed to court Republican senators, all but dooming her nomination. The position of national security adviser does not require Senate confirmation.
At the UN, Rice was known for her brash ways. She once presented Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Chrurkin with a cartoon of the Grinch with his face stuck on it. So, the role of national security adviser — who in addition to being the president’s top foreign policy adviser is sometimes required to fly out and deliver tough, undiplomatic messages behind the scenes — is widely seen as a better fit for Rice. Rice will replace Tom Donilon, who had said he planned to leave after Obama’s first term but stayed on to ease the transition of the new secretaries of Defense and State. Donilon, who served in the Carter and Clinton administrations, is the personification of the little-seen but nonetheless potent White House staffer, rarely giving speeches and avoiding television appearances. It is unlikely that Rice will take that route.
Obama on Tuesday also plans to nominate Samantha Power, one of his foreign policy advisers, to succeed Rice at the UN. The former Harvard professor is known as a tough advocate for military intervention to stop genocide and is responsible for one of the Administration’s least favorite, but most often used, phrases describing its foreign policy: “leading from behind.” Power is also known for her outspoken tendencies: she was forced to resign from the Obama campaign during the primaries after she called Hillary Clinton a “monster” who was “stooping to anything” to win the nomination. As UN envoy, Power will face an uncertain Senate confirmation.
Unlike Obama, Rice, 48, grew up in the bosom of Washington’s elite. Her father, Emmett J. Rice was a Cornell University economist and former governor of the Federal Reserve System. Her mother, Lois, was an education researcher and guest scholar at the Brookings Institution. One of Rice’s early mentors was her mother’s close friend Madeline Albright, under whom she would serve at the State Department. Rice attended National Cathedral School, where she was valedictorian, and Stanford before earning a Rhodes Scholarship. She received her masters and PhD from Oxford. Rice got her start in foreign policy in President Bill Clinton’s Administration, serving first on the National Security Council and then as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. She is married to Canadian journalist Ian Cameron and the couple has two children.