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Republicans give measured response to Rice withdrawal


Updated 5:20 p.m. - Senate Republicans managed to achieve their goal of blocking U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice from becoming the next secretary of state after Rice, on Thursday, withdrew her name from consideration by President Barack Obama.

MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell and NBC's David Gregory joins The Cycle to report on Ambassador Susan Rice's decision to withdraw her name from consideration for Secretary of State and what this means going forward.

Republicans were more measured in their responses to the withdrawal than they had been in their earlier criticism of Rice, whose prospective nomination had come under fire for her role in publicly explaining the Obama administration’s assessment of the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

"I respect Ambassador Rice’s decision. President Obama has many talented people to choose from to serve as our next Secretary of State," South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said in a statement.

Related: Rice drops out of running for secretary of state

Graham, along with Sens. John McCain, Ariz., and Kelly Ayotte, N.H., had led an effort to pre-empt Obama from naming Rice as the successor to outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"I respect Susan Rice's decision and appreciate her commitment to public service," Ayotte said in a statement. "However, my concerns regarding the terrorist attack in Benghazi go beyond any one individual."

Rice told NBC News in an exclusive interview on Thursday that she no longer wished for Obama to consider her for the position. In a letter to the president, Rice said she feared a confirmation fight in the Senate "would be lengthy, disruptive and costly."  The full interview with Rice will air tonight on Rock Center with Brian Williams at 10 p.m ET.

McCain’s office said: “Senator McCain thanks Ambassador Rice for her service to the country and wishes her well.”

U.N. envoy Susan Rice is dropping out of the running to be the next secretary of state. Brian Williams will have an exclusive interview with Rice on tonight's "Rock Center With Brian Williams" at 10p/9c.

Each of the Republicans, though, expressed continued concern about the Benghazi incident in their statements, and said they would continue their efforts to probe the matter.

Obama said he has accepted Rice's decision, hailing her as an "extraordinarily capable, patriotic, and passionate public servant." He said Rice would continue to serve as U.N. ambassador, and as a member of his national security team.

The trio of Senate Republicans had vowed to work to block Rice's nomination if Obama settled upon the United Nations ambassador as his nominee, stemming from her explanation for the Benghazi attacks. Rice had appeared on public affairs shows the weekend after the attack to assert that the assault -- which left four Americans dead, including Amb. Christopher Stevens – to assert that it was the outgrowth of a spontaneous rally to protest an American video that was offensive to Islam.

An investigation in subsequent weeks revealed that the attack in Benghazi was actually a coordinated terrorist attack, which prompted pointed questions from Republicans about why the administration had first put Rice forth to assert otherwise. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney tried for a series of weeks to effectively tarnish Obama politically with the mixed public explanation.

McCain, Ayotte and Graham pressed the matter further after the election, winning a meeting with Rice last month amid speculation that Obama wished to name the trusted adviser to fill the top diplomatic job.

"If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me," Obama said at a press conference following his re-election to rebuff the Republican troika. "And I'm happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and besmirch her reputation is outrageous."

But there were indications that the critiques had started to wear on the public perceptions of Rice. In the NBC/WSJ poll released Wednesday, Rice was rated positively by 20 percent of respondents, while 24 percent of said they had a negative perception of her.