Rice drops SecState bid, and other appointment RUMINT

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UN envoy Susan Rice has decided to withdraw her name from consideration for Secretary of State after she came under bruising partisan attacks for her comments about the circumstances under which four US personnel were killed in Benghazi in September, the White House confirmed on Thursday, after an NBC report.

President Obama praised Rice in a statement saying he had accepted her decision, and expressed gratitude she’s agreed to stay on as his UN envoy and a key member of his national security cabinet.

With Obama huddling at the White House most of this week for fiscal cliff negotiations, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton out sick with a stomach bug, and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visiting US troops in Kuwait and Afghanistan, the White House is not expected to announce new cabinet secretary nominations this week, an unnamed senior White House official told NBC’s Chuck Todd Thursday.

That has hardly stopped the rumor mill from going on overdrive, though sources close to the White House said Obama had not finally decided on some posts as of last Friday (December 7).

Bloomberg News set off another Twitter flurry Thursday when it reported former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel tops Obama’s short list for Secretary of Defense. The report, by Bloomberg’s White House reporter Hans Nichols, noted that Hagel had met with Obama and Vice President Biden last Friday to discuss possible slots. It generated such a flurry of anticipation that it prompted the White House to tell NBC’s Chuck Todd no cabinet secretary nominations would be announced this week. (That was, however, a couple minutes before the White House sent out a statement saying Obama had accepted Rice’s decision to withdraw her name from consideration for the top envoy job.)

Note too that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to testify about Benghazi before the House Foreign Affairs panel December 20th—though the State Department said Thursday the Accountability Review Board report on what happened in Benghazi may not yet be ready then. An administration official thought Clinton would want the Benghazi investigation to be completed and to possibly take accountability for its findings before handing things over to a successor.

Here’s some more we hear from the appointment rumor front, amid lingering questions in the wake of the Rice shuffle:

Two sources tell the Back Channel that Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter may be tapped to become Energy Secretary.

Hagel is on the short list for SecDef or CIA Chief. Other names floated for CIA director: Acting Director Michael Morell, White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan, former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig.

Former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, with Hagel and Carter on short list for Defense Secretary, may wait it out for now, with an eye on the possibility of SecDef or National Security Advisor a bit later in Obama’s second term.

Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough and his boss Tom Donilon both among the names of those mulled for White House chief of staff.

With Rice withdrawing from consideration, Senator John Kerry would seem to top the short list for Secretary of State. (Have they found a solution to the Scott Brown issue/Kerry’s Senate seat? “Maybe they don’t care,” one administration official told the back Channel Wednesday.) Another possibility: Rice for National Security Advisor, if Donilon moves.

Other wild cards: rumors John Podesta, former Clinton White House chief of staff, and/or former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle may be interested in something.