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Nomination battles aren't that unusual in these polarized political times.

It is, however, unusual to have a battle before there's even a nomination.

It may not seem like it, but President Obama has not tapped Susan Rice to be Secretary of State, because currently Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton has not formally announced her retirement.

Yetat least four Senate Republicans have signaled opposition to Rice, thecurrent U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, because of her commentsafter the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

With Clinton expected to retire soon, Obama -- who praised Rice on Wednesday as "extraordinary" -- faces a tough choice.

Thepresident can more than likely win confirmation for Rice; the SenateDemocratic caucus will outnumber the Republicans 55-45 in the nextSenate.

But does he want to risk even more enmity withcongressional Republicans? Especially with tough decisions coming up onthe budget and immigration?

Obama could go with a "safe" pick forState -- say, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a near-lock for confirmation byhis Senate colleagues. But then the president risks criticism fromliberal supporters who might say he caved to Republican pressure.

Of course, Republicans face risks as well.

Theonly way they could stop Rice is through a filibuster or a hold on hernomination. Are they willing to employ such extraordinary action forsuch a high-level appointee? Especially if the nominee is anAfrican-American woman, given their problems with women and minoritiesin recent elections?

The main GOP complaint is that Rice initiallyattributed the Benghazi attacks to a protest of an anti-Islam videothat got out of hand -- later, she and other officials cited apre-planned terrorist attack that led to the deaths of ambassadorChristopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Rice, who gave fivetelevision interviews five days after the attacks, said she relied onintelligence talking points that turned out to be inaccurate. That's themessage she delivered in pre-nomination meetings with Sen. John McCain,R-Ariz., and other Republicans, but if anything that have intensifiedtheir criticism of Rice.

Asked about GOP attacks, White Housespokesman Jay Carney said: "The obsessive focus on Ambassador Rice'sappearance on a series of Sunday shows several months ago is misplacedand misguided."

As for the prospect of a Rice nomination, Carney said: "The President has not made any personnel decisions that I can announce."

Withthe dispute reaching fever pitch, it seems like a good time for Obamato announce whether or not he will in fact nominate Rice -- thoughClinton, the current Secretary of State, has to make her move first.

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