President Obama on Wednesday named Susan Rice his next national security adviser, calling her "the consummate public servant," even as Republicans continue to criticize Rice for the way she publicly responded for the administration to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Rice, who currently serves as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, will replace outgoing national security adviser Tom Donilon when he steps down next month. She does not need Senate confirmation to serve in her new capacity.
From the White House Rose Garden, Mr. Obama noted that Rice was a "trusted adviser" during his first campaign for president.
"I am absolutely thrilled she'll be back at my side leading my national security team," he said, calling her "fearless" and "tough."
Rice has been the subject of Republican scrutiny since she appeared on political talk shows in the days following the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi. Members of the GOP seized on her remarks to suggest the administration was misleading the public about the nature of the attack. Guided by CIA-drafted talking points, Rice said the attacks stemmed from spontaneous protests, which was wrong. Mr. Obama has come to the fierce defense of Rice, and the White House today reiterated that she was simply following the talking points.
"What we learned from the revival of this story and the release of emails and talking points was what we had said all along," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday, "which is that Ambassador Rice went out to the Sunday shows and conveyed what was the intelligence communities' best assessment of what had happened in Benghazi at the time."
Republicans in Congress, however, say otherwise.
"I disagree with that whole premise," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said on CNN Wednesday in response to Carney's remarks. "She embellished those and went beyond those talking points."
On Fox News, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said, "I think the president's been struggling to regain the moral authority to lead the nation, and this doesn't really encourage anyone. To reappoint or to promote basically the person who was guilty of misleading us over the Benghazi tragedy? I can't imagine, one, that we would keep -- be keeping Ambassador Rice in any significant position, much less promoting her to an important position."
Some conservatives said they're willing to work with the new national security adviser, in spite of their dissatisfaction with her previous service. "Amb Rice did a disservice to the nation when she made misleading stmts abt #Benghazi," Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., a vocal critic of Rice, wrote on Twitter. "However, its POTUS' call & I'll work with her going fwd."
Rice, for her part, said she was deeply honored by the appointment, remarking, "We have vital opportunities to seize and ongoing challenges to confront."
Mr. Obama also on Wednesday nominated Samantha Power, a former special assistant to the president and senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights, to replace Rice at the U.N. Power will need the Senate's confirmation.
The president called Power a "relentless advocate for American interests and values," adding, "I would strongly urge the Senate to confirm her without delay."