Susan Rice: Close Obama adviser under GOP fire as potential Secretary of State nominee

Susan Rice
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice speaks during a press conference consultations at the United Nations headquarters on Friday, April 13, 2012. Rice, the current president of the United Nations Security Council, and other council members are meeting to discuss Thursday's failed rocket launch by North Korea.
AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

(CBS News) President Barack Obama's likely choice to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, is viewed by the president as the quarterback at the United Nations.

Susan Rice likely Hillary Clinton replacement

When he nominated Rice as ambassador to the U.N. in 2008, he elevated the role to cabinet-level status -- a status that her predecessors did not have. For this next promotion, the president will fight skeptical Republicans who question Rice's judgment in the days following the Benghazi attacks.

Referring to Rice, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said, "I still don't know how anybody of that capacity could have been on television five days later saying the things that were said. I don't know how that would happen."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said, "I think she'd have to answer questions about that. There's no doubt about it."

Rice hit a nerve during a string of television appearances five days after the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. She did not call it an act of terror.

In one appearance on CBS News' "Face the Nation" shortly after the attacks Rice said, "We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or pre-planned."

That characterization is her biggest obstacle to becoming Secretary of State. Senior Republican senators John McCain, Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, S.C., say that they'll try to keep Rice out of office.

On "CTM" Wednesday, McCain said of Rice, "She's not qualified. Anyone who goes on national television in defiance of the facts five days later. ... She is responsible to the Senate of the United States. ... I was on 'Face the Nation' the morning she came on and told that incredible story, and right after, the president of the Libyan National Assembly said it was al Qaeda...and yet she never changed her story."

The White House says she was relying on the CIA's best information at the time.

A former Rhodes Scholar and high school basketball star, Rice met Mr. Obama in 2005 when he was a senator. She's eager to return to Washington where her two children and husband still live.

At the U.N., Rice became known as a passionate crusader; sometimes with direct language not often heard in diplomacy. She said in July 2011, referring to countries that blocked an effort to adopt language linking climate change to international security, "This is more than disappointing. It's pathetic. It's shortsighted." In December 2011, referring to a Libyan investigation that she considered a diversion from the ongoing slaughter in Syria, she said, "Let us see this for what it is: it is duplicitous, it's redundant, it's superfluous and it's a stunt."

Rice has delivered: she wrangled Security Council support for financial sanctions against Iran.

While recent attacks in Libya are Rice's greatest hurdle, she did lead the charge at the U.N. to protect Libya's rebels. She has not been able to produce similar results for Syria.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has weighed in on Rice, and said, "I can tell you that the president believes that Ambassador Rice has done an excellent job and is grateful for her service."

The president's choice of Susan Rice contrasts with his decision four years ago when the president built a team of rivals -- nominating former opponent Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State. With Rice, he has selected one of his closest advisers.

For more on this story, watch Margaret Brennan's full report in the video above.