The Cable

Obama to McCain on Rice: Bring it on

U.S. President Barack Obama gave a full-throated and emotional defense of his U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice Wednesday and told Sen. John McCain that if he has a problem with Rice, the Arizona senator should take it up with him directly.

McCain, in a Wednesday press conference with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) pledged to block Rice's nomination, if it materializes, due to her Sept. 16 comments referring to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi as a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islam video. Rice has said those comments were based on the intelligence community's assessment at the time, but McCain and Graham insist that she should not made the comments either way.

"I don't trust her," said Graham. Other GOP senators who are pledging to oppose the nomination include John Barrasso (R-WY) and James Inhofe (R-OK).

Obama, asked about the comments at Wednesday's press conference, said he had not made any decisions on who might replace departing senior members of his national security team. But he said Rice had nothing to do with Benghazi policy and that it was "outrageous" to oppose her nomination based on her comments on news shows in the days after the attack.

"She has done exemplary work. She has represented the United States and our interests at the United Nations with skill and professionalism and toughness and grace. She made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her," Obama said.

"If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me... but for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and who was just making a presentation based on intelligence she had received, and besmirch her reputation, is outrageous."

Obama said he is committed to getting to the bottom of the Benghazi attack and cooperating with Congress to get lawmakers information. He also said that the administration did everything it could to save the lives of Americans during and after the attack.

"Immediately upon finding out our folks were in danger, my orders to my national security team were, ‘Do whatever we need to do to make sure they're safe,'" Obama said.

"I don't think there is any debate in this country that when you have four Americans killed, that's a problem," he said. "But when they go after the U.N. ambassador, partly because they think she's an easy target, then they've got a problem with me. And if I think she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity of the State Department, then I will nominate her. That's not a decision that I've made."

UPDATE: Graham issued a statement in response to Obama's comments:

"Mr. President, don't think for one minute I don't hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi.  I think you failed as Commander in Chief before, during, and after the attack," he said. "We owe it to the American people and the victims of this attack to have full, fair hearings and accountability be assigned where appropriate. Given what I know now, I have no intention of promoting anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle."

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

Top Biden staffer leaving to work for Pepsi

The office of Vice President Joe Biden announced today that his Deputy Chief of Staff Alan Hoffman will step down at the end of the month and take a top executive post at PepsiCo.

"For more than a decade, Alan has been my trusted advisor," Biden said in a statement. "As chief of staff in my Senate office and deputy chief of staff in the White House, Alan has managed a diverse staff with tremendous leadership, keen intellect, and unwavering loyalty. From his commitment to strengthening our nation's law enforcement, to his tireless advocacy on behalf of the labor community and building a strong middle class, he has always set the highest standard for public service. Alan has my complete respect and admiration, and I'm deeply in his debt for his contributions. I wish Alan all the best. His wisdom, experience, and passion will be greatly missed."

Hoffman has been Biden's number two staffer since the beginning of the Obama administration, first under Chief of Staff Ron Klein and then under current Chief of Staff Bruce Reed, the former executive director of President Barack Obama's commission on fiscal responsibility.

PepsiCo said in a press release that Hoffman will be their new vice president for global public policy and government affairs, effective Nov. 26.

"Alan is a proven leader who brings tremendous experience and expertise to PepsiCo," said Larry Thompson, executive vice president, government affairs, general counsel and corporate secretary of PepsiCo, in a release. "Alan is well-versed in a wide range of public policy issues and widely respected across all levels of government, and we look forward to benefiting from his leadership."

Hoffman served as chief of staff to Senator Biden from 1998 to 2003 and again from 2006 to 2008. He was also senior presidential campaign advisor and chief operating officer to Vice President Biden during the transition following the 2008 presidential election. Hoffman previously served as senior vice president for external relations for the University of California, as a partner at Timmons & Company, a Washington, D.C. government relations and consulting firm, and as vice president for external relations at the RAND Corporation. Earlier in his career, Hoffman served in the Clinton White House working on health policy issues and as an assistant U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia.

Biden's office said no replacement for Hoffman has yet been chosen.