Thanks to the political equivalent of a "come at me, bro" from the President yesterday, it looks like Susan Rice is one step closer to becoming the Secretary of State. And we haven't even heard from any Senators yet. Yesterday, during his first press conference after being reelected, President Obama defended his ambassador after Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain told the media they were going to block her since she said some things that were incorrect about the Benghazi terrorist attack on Sunday chat shows. Obama said:
If Sen. McCain and Sen. 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.
Notice there was no "I'm going to nominate Rice" or "She's my next Hillary" from Obama. But it all sort of laid the groundwork should he nominate her. And because politics is weird and there's ton of reading between the lines and whatnot, we now have dueling reports from NBC News and Bloomberg that Rice is way closer to becoming Secretary of State than she was pre-press conference. Here's why:
The President Made Things Awkward for Republicans: So remember all that talk from both sides on election night about unity? Yeah. Think about that. And then think about what McCain and Graham did. "If it starts to look like this is just another attempt to obstruct instead of,'‘Look, we’re one country. We can at least let the president have his nominees,' I think it really makes them look like they still want to fight -- and people are sick of the fighting," Democrat Party Strategist Joe Trippi told Bloomberg.
The President Doesn't Like to Fight, But... "The president is a pragmatist and is usually someone who likes to avoid confirmation fights for his appointees. But the more the GOP attacks Rice, the more dug in the White House and president might get," writes NBC News's team of Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Brooke Brower.
The President Knew Exactly What He Was Doing "Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, administration officials said Obama’s unusually blunt language was part political calculation, part trial balloon and part loyalty," writes Bloomberg's Flavia Krause-Jackson and Indira A.R. Lakshmanan. See that part about "trial balloon" and "calculation?" Well, we're still in trial balloon phase and the president and his team are monitoring how his comments are going over—which is positive when you ask Bloomberg, NBC and Mother Jones. This is really good for Rice.
And the President for Sure Knows What's Going On in Massachusetts: As Bloomberg's team points out, the president is well aware that nominating John Kerry to Secretary of State—one of the hottest rumors running up to the election—may cost Democrats a Senate seat they picked up last week (which would probably go to Scott Brown). Republicans would go for that, right? The President? Not so much.
Again, this is just the groundwork and it's still relatively early. Bloomberg is calling Clinton's, as well as Secretary of Defense Leon Penetta's exits "expected." And we're still a few weeks away from reports of how close Obama is to getting 60 senators (neither Bloomberg nor NBC talked to Senators) to like his nomination, reports of political rancor, jokes about McCain's judge of competence (Sarah Palin?). But if Rice is our new Secretary of State come January/February (Clinton says she's stepping down after inauguration) a lot of it will have had to do with the four sentences Obama said yesterday.