No more Mr. Nice President. For a brief few weeks this spring, the president was on what was universally, and rather uncreatively, described as a "charm offensive." But a series of high-profile power plays this week show suggest a White House that has either lost faith in the value of reaching out or is simply annoyed at a series of scandal investigations and isn't going to take it anymore. The moves may also reflect a concern that if the president doesn't move to set the tone for his second term, it may end up being defined by Republican-driven scandals. Whatever the case, the Obama Administration has this week dropped the "charm" but is sticking with the "offensive."
The most prominent salvo is the planned appointment of Susan Rice as national security adviser. The current ambassador to the U.N. will replace Tom Donilon, who is retiring. The NSA is a big, important job, and the president has shown he greatly values Rice as an adviser, so the appointment isn't a huge surprise. But there's another reason Rice is being slotted for the post: It's not subject to Senate confirmation.
Republicans in Congress despise Rice because of a television appearance shortly after the Benghazi attacks, in which she suggested that the video The Innocence of Muslims, rather than organized terrorism, explained the violence that claimed three lives. Obama had reportedly been considering Rice as a replacement for outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but the controversy effectively ended any chance she could be confirmed, so John Kerry went to Foggy Bottom instead. The NSA gig is a consolation prize for Rice, but it's also a huge thumb in the eye of Senate Republicans: Their adversary gets a big promotion and there's nothing they can do about it. The appointment is even more of a provocation because it comes as the GOP is still trying to make political hay out of Benghazi.