In a major shakeup, Susan Rice, who came under GOP fire for her initial accounting of the deadly attack on a U.S. compound in Libya, will become national security advisor, President Barack Obama announced Wednesday.
"Susan is the consummate public servant—a patriot who puts her country first," Obama said at a Rose Garden ceremony.
She will replace Obama's long-time foreign policy adviser, Tom Donilon. Donilon, 58, has been a key foreign policy adviser to Obama since the president first took office. But he had been expected to depart sometime this year.
The personnel shuffle signaled an act of defiance by Obama to Republicans. Rice, 48, a close Obama confidante, came under withering criticism from Republicans as part of the investigations into the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. compound in Benghaz that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans..
Rice, relying on talking points from the intelligence community, incorrectly said in television interviews that the attacks were likely spontaneous rather than an act of terrorism.
Rice's selection was greeted by a muted response from some Republicans.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, one of Rice's harshest critics, wrote on Twitter that he disagreed with her appointment but would "make every effort" to work with her on important matters. And Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the foreign relations committee, said he had spoken with Rice and looked forward "to working with her on shaping important foreign policy and national security issues."
Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was taken aback by the selection of Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, but said he, too, looked forward to working with her.
"It's curious that they would choose Ambassador Rice as the national security adviser, only because she's such a political lightning rod now," Rogers told NBC News. "The one job that you want to be void of all of that political attention, I think, is your national security adviser. ... This is the one post that needs to be right down the middle. This needs to be about national security."
Obama considered nominating Rice as his second-term secretary of state, but she withdrew amid the GOP criticism, saying she didn't want her confirmation fight to be a distraction for the White House. The president instead nominated John Kerry, who easily won confirmation from his former Senate colleagues.
Her new post as national security adviser does not require Senate confirmation.
Obama is also nominating Samantha Power, a human rights expert and former White House adviser, to replace Rice at the United Nations, pending Senate confirmation. Power left the White House earlier this year.
It's unclear whether the changes signal a significant shift in Obama's foreign policy, particularly in Syria, where the U.S. is being pressured to act against President Bashar Assad.
Power is seen as a proponent of American intervention on humanitarian grounds and Rice backed greater U.S. involvement in Libya, though administration officials have made clear they don't draw direct comparisons between the current situation in Syria and the 2011 push to oust Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. In that situation, the U.S. Britain and France maintained a no-fly zone to allow rebels to fight back against Gadhafi.
The White House said Donilon is expected to stay on the job until early July, after Obama wraps up two overseas trips and a summit later this week with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
_ By The Associated Press, with CNBC.com