Susan Rice, the American ambassador to the U.N. and President Obama's one-time frontrunner to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, has withdrawn herself from consideration for the cabinet position, bringing a freight train of partisan bickering over her potential nomination to a sudden, screeching halt. "If nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly — to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities," Rice wrote in a letter to President Obama released Thursday afternoon by NBC News, which will run an exclusive interview with Rice tonight on Rock Center." That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country ... Therefore, I respectfully request that you no longer consider my candidacy at this time," she added. You can read the full letter below, but in a preview of NBC's sit-down with her on Nightly News early this evening (video also below), Rice admitted that she "would have been very honored to serve in that job" and that she did not regret appearing on several Sunday talk shows in place of a busy Clinton.

Rice's withdrawal brings to a close a kind of trial-balloon period mired in partisan opposition, spearheaded by Republicans Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte, whose ongoing complaints over how Rice handled the Benghazi terror attacks on those talk shows now appear to have forced her to step aside. Those complaints even drew this zinger from Obama in his first press conference after the election:

 If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.

Speculation is already ensuing about another reason for Rice's stepping down, but Obama's spirited defense appears to be all for naught. Sen. John Kerry will now presumably become the frontrunner to replace Clinton, but Rice will remain as the United States ambassador to the United Nations. "I am grateful that Susan will continue to serve as our Ambassador at the United Nations and a key member of my cabinet and national security team, carrying her work forward on all of these and other issues," President Obama wrote in a White House statement accepting her withdrawal. Here's the full text, and we'll be updating this post as more information comes in.

Statement by the President on Ambassador Rice 

Today, I spoke to Ambassador Susan Rice, and accepted her decision to remove her name from consideration for Secretary of State. For two decades, Susan has proven to be an extraordinarily capable, patriotic, and passionate public servant. As my Ambassador to the United Nations, she plays an indispensable role in advancing America’s interests. Already, she has secured international support for sanctions against Iran and North Korea, worked to protect the people of Libya, helped achieve an independent South Sudan, stood up for Israel’s security and legitimacy, and served as an advocate for UN reform and the human rights of all people. I am grateful that Susan will continue to serve as our Ambassador at the United Nations and a key member of my cabinet and national security team, carrying her work forward on all of these and other issues. I have every confidence that Susan has limitless capability to serve our country now and in the years to come, and know that I will continue to rely on her as an advisor and friend. While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks, her decision demonstrates the strength of her character, and an admirable commitment to rise above the politics of the moment to put our national interests first. The American people can be proud to have a public servant of her caliber and character representing our country.  

Here is Ambassador Rice's full letter to the President:

Update, 4:32 p.m.: The office of Sen. John McCain, who led the crusade against Rice, has released a statement: 

Senator McCain thanks Ambassador Rice for her service to the country and wishes her well. He will continue to seek all of the facts surrounding the attack on or consulate in Benghazi that killed four brave Americans.

Sen. Lindsey Graham has also released a statement: "I respect Ambassador Rice’s decision. President Obama has many talented people to choose from to serve as our next Secretary of State."

Update, 6:31 p.m.: "I've all my life been a public servant, I'm not a political person ..." Rice says in the Brian Williams interview — NBC gave us a sneak peek during its 6:30 Nightly News broadcast. In that preview, we get a few things out of Rice: 

  • She really wanted the job: "How can you not want to, in my field, have the highest possible job?" Rice tells Williams.
  • Secretary of State Clinton was originally asked to be on the Sunday morning shows following the Benghazi terror attack, but Rice filled in for her. "It wasn't that unusual. I've done Sunday shows. Secretary Clinton had originally been asked by networks to go on" Rice said, adding that Clinton had a grueling week. "She declined to do it. I was asked by the White House if I could do it," Rice said.

Obviously we'll be tuning into Rock Center to see the full interview and reporting back. In the meantime, here's the extended preview from NBC tonight:

Update, 7:01: According to the President's schedule just released by the White House, Obama will meet with Rice in the Oval Office Friday at 3:30. The meeting will be closed to press.