ANALYSIS: Can Susan Rice Deal With Defections?

PHOTO: Susan Rice

It was President Obama at his most fired up.

The question, from ABC's Jonathan Karl at his news conference last week, was about threats from Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham indicating they favored Watergate-style hearings about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi -- with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice at the center of that inquiry.

Would those threats deter the president from naming Rice his next Secretary of State, Karl asked?

"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," Obama said, adding: "When they go after the U.N. Ambassador, apparently because they think she's an easy target, then they've got a problem with me."

But just yesterday nearly 100 Republican members of the House co-signed a letter opposing Obama's possible nomination of Rice as the nation's top diplomat.

"Though Ambassador Rice has been our Representative to the U.N., we believe her misleading statements over the days and weeks following the attack on our embassy in Libya that led to the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans caused irreparable damage to her credibility both at home and around the world," according to the letter.

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And there's more for President Obama to worry about than just the upset on the right. Some left-leaning voices are also warning the president too.

Over the weekend, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd argued that Rice, who "who has a bull-in-a-china-shop reputation ... would have been wise to be more bull-in-a-china-shop and vet her talking points, given that members of the intelligence and diplomatic communities and sources in news accounts considered it a terrorist attack days before Rice went on the shows." And Washington Post scribe Dana Milbank criticized Rice's "shoot-first tendency" and her "pugilism."

"[The] nation's top diplomat needs to show more sensitivity and independence -- traits Clinton has demonstrated in abundance," Milbank opined. "Obama can do better at State than Susan Rice."

To be sure, Rice continues to enjoy powerful defenders within Democratic ranks. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee stood up for the embattled U.N. Ambassador while speaking to reporters on Friday.

"We have seen wrong intelligence before, and it all surrounded our going into Iraq, and a lot of people were killed based on bad intelligence," Feinstein said. "I don't think that's fair game. I think mistakes get made -- you don't pillory the person."

Last week, President Obama struck a note of defiance, but said he had yet to make up his mind about who he wants to fill Hillary Clinton's shoes.

Referring to Rice, Obama said: "If I think that she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity of the State Department, then I will nominate her. That's not a determination that I've made yet."

As Time Magazine's Jay Newton-Small wrote today, in the end it may come to a cost-benefit calculation: "With a high-risk, high-reward nomination like Rice, Obama must ask himself if he's willing to spend the political capital. Is she worth it? These are questions only he can answer."

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