Rice Takes Herself Out

Here is the lead of The New York Times' two-column front-page story today:

Washington—President Obama knew before he picked up the phone on Thursday afternoon what Susan E. Rice, his ambassador to the United Nations, was calling about: she wanted to take herself out of the running for secretary of state and spare him a fight.

Really? Are you kidding?

I have no inside sources, but this just not how things work. Does Times reporter Landler truly think that President Obama left this decision to Rice?

More likely, the president and his political strategists and vote counters have been agonizing for weeks about whether a good dogfight with Republicans over Rice’s confirmation would be a net plus or a net minus. Ultimately, they decided it was better to get someone else.

If Obama really did leave this to Rice herself, he is even more of a wuss than his worst detractors contend.

Landler continues in the second paragraph:

By acceding to Ms Rice’s request, which she had conveyed to White House aides the night before, Mr. Obama averted a bitter, potentially disruptive battle with Republicans in Congress at the start of his second term and at a time when his administration is struggling to reach a politically disruptive deal on the federal budget.

Note the benefit of this spin. First, Obama can’t be accused of failing to stand by his woman, since she took herself out. Second, the administration is making a conciliatory gesture to Republicans, which he expects them to reciprocate (we know how well that sort of thing worked in his first term.)

There is no doubt that this is the story the White House peddled to Landler and other press. What’s a little distressing is that the Times bought it, hook, line, and sinker, without a shred of skepticism. Maybe just a raised eyebrow: Didn’t the president make this decision himself? Didn’t he advise Rice that it would be nice if she withdrew? Isn’t it more likely that Obama knew just what Rice was calling about—because the call was scripted in advance?

As for the secretary of state job, by forcing the president to withdraw Rice and saying lots of nice things about their Senate colleague John Kerry (who was branded a war criminal in 2004 but that was then) they will open a senate seat ripe for the plucking if Kerry gets the job at State.

Scott Brown, who lost to Elizabeth Warren by 7 points, will likely contest a special election for the Kerry seat. By common consent, nobody else could have beaten Brown and the only Massachusetts Democrat who could handily hold the seat is Governor Deval Patrick, but Patrick has said he doesn’t want the job, he wants to finish his term and return to the private sector.

There are nine vulnerable Democrat seats in the 2014 mid-term. This will make ten.

By pressuring Obama not to appoint Rice and appoint Kerry, Republicans win two ways. They demonstrate they can face down Obama by hanging tough, and they very likely pick up a Senate seat.

Obama has demonstrated that he can play hardball in the budget battle, but in other realms his White House is still on Mr. Nice Guy autopilot, as in 2009. (As I reported earlier this week, that is certainly the case when it comes to his actions on court nominees.)

But at least, thanks to the diligent probing of the Times, we now know Susan Rice spared Obama the need to make a tough decision for himself. Or if he did, that it was a decision borne of weakness.

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