Washington (CNN) – Vice President Joe Biden praised U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice on the eve of congressional hearings over last year's deadly terror attack against a U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya - a controversy in which Rice found herself buried deep only days later.
Describing her as one of the “brightest, most accomplished” people he’s ever met, Biden said he’s never seen a U.S. ambassador to the U.N. “who has more ability to promote the interests of the United States of America.”
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“When she speaks…no one wonders whether or not she is speaking for the president,” the vice president said at a gala for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which honored Rice with an award Tuesday night.
Biden said he had just been with Rice in the Situation Room, saying “there’s a situation,” before cutting himself off. He paused as the crowd laughed, then promised she would attend the dinner on time.
Rice was considered a leading contender for secretary of state during President Barack Obama’s second term, but Republican-led opposition against her potential nomination spurred the ambassador to withdraw her name from consideration in December.
Critics faulted Rice for saying that the Benghazi attack originated from a spontaneous protest over an anti-Islam video while she was a guest on Sunday morning talk shows days after the attack. Rice was speaking from declassified talking points.
The Obama administration later said the violence was a planned terrorist attack. The raid left four Americans killed, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.
Biden did not mention the episode Tuesday, but emphasized she has done an “incredible job representing America’s interests.”
The House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday with testimony from three "whistle blowers" who say there were security failures at the compound during the attack. Republicans are also still pursuing questions over who changed the talking points, which initially said the attack had links to extremists, before Rice went on the air.
In November, Rice met privately with lawmakers on Capitol Hill about her Sunday news show appearances, though some GOP senators said they left the meeting with more questions than answers.
In mid-December, Rice ultimately decided to take her name out of the running to be Hillary Clinton’s successor as secretary of state.
In a letter to Obama, she said "the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive, and costly - to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities. That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country."