President Obama had voiced strong support for Rice in his first post-election news conference last month – pointedly taking on Sen. McCain and other Republicans who had accused Rice of twisting early details about the Benghazi attack for political purposes during the presidential campaign.
Rice’s defenders continue to insist that her comments during appearances on Sunday TV talk shows just a week after the attack were based on talking points provided by US intelligence agencies.
More recently, the White House – including Obama – has been less vocal in support of Rice, which some of her more ardent supporters have complained about.
It seemed increasingly clear that the administration was reluctant to expend any more political capital on what likely would be a messy confirmation fight, perhaps leading to defeat at a time when other issues – avoiding the “fiscal cliff,” in particular – were seen as more important.
Unlike Rice, Kerry likely would have no trouble winning the approval of his fellow senators.
"I think John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues," Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins said recently.
With Kerry’s move to the State Department, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (a Democrat) would be expected to name a temporary replacement. Then under state election law a special election would be held 145-160 days later.