President Barack Obama chose close confidante Susan Rice as his new national security adviser on Wednesday, increasing White House control over foreign policy and defying Republican critics of her handling of last year's deadly attack on a U.S. compound in Libya.
The hard-charging Rice, selected to replace low-key Tom Donilon in the post, is expected to play a high-profile role in defending Obama's foreign policy, particularly on the civil war in Syria. Obama has come under fire for his cautious approach in response to mounting evidence that President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against rebels seeking to oust him.
Obama will nominate Samantha Power - a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, former White House aide and Harvard professor - to replace Rice as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, White House officials said.
The selection of Rice will likely anger Republicans who have sharply criticized her role in the handling of last September's attack on a U.S. compound in the Libyan city of Benghazi that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Obama had been expected to pick Rice, 48, as national security adviser since she withdrew last December from consideration to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state amid the criticism by Republicans about Benghazi. She had been Obama's first choice to replace Clinton. The job instead went to John Kerry.
Obama will avoid a congressional fight, though, because the post does not require Senate confirmation. Rice will replace Donilon in July as the official who coordinates U.S. foreign policy from the White House.
Republicans accuse Rice of playing down the Benghazi incident for political purposes by initially describing it on Sunday TV news shows as the result of a spontaneous protest, rather than a terrorist attack.
White House spokesman Jay Carney defended Rice.
"Ambassador Rice went out to the Sunday shows and conveyed what was the intelligence community's best assessment of what had happened in Benghazi at the time," Carney told a briefing.