WASHINGTON (TheBlaze/AP) — Shaking up his national security team, President Barack Obama tapped diplomat Susan Rice as his national security adviser, defying Republicans who have vigorously criticized her faulty explanation about the attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

“Susan is the consummate public servant – a patriot who puts her country first,” Obama said while announcing Rice’s appointment Wednesday during a Rose Garden ceremony.

Obama Announced Susan Rice as New National Security Adviser

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks as former aide Samantha Power (L), U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice (R) and incumbent National Security Adviser Tom Donilon (2L) listen during a personnel announcement at the Rose Garden of the White House June 5, 2013 in Washington, DC. President Obama has nominated Rice to succeed Donilon to become the next National Security Adviser. Obama has also nominated Power to succeed Rice for her position to the UN. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“She has a great tennis game and a pretty good basketball game,” he later joked.

Rice will take over the top national security post from Tom Donilon, who is resigning after four years in the White House. Obama lauded the 58-year-old Donilon for having “shaped every single national security policy of my presidency,” including the renewed U.S. focus on ties with Asia.

“Tom has been instrumental every step of the way,” Obama said, adding that he believes Donilon “helped restore our nation’s prestige and standing in the world.”

Obama also announced the nomination of former aide Samantha Power to replace Rice as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Power is a human rights advocate and expert on genocide.

Obama ”strongly [urged] that the Senate confirm her without delay.”

Obama Announced Susan Rice as New National Security Adviser

President Obama has nominated Rice to succeed Donilon to become the next National Security Adviser. Obama has also nominated Samantha Power to succeed Rice for her position to the UN. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

For Rice – a longtime Obama ally and close confidante of the president – the appointment is a bit of redemption after she was forced to withdraw from consideration as Obama’s second-term secretary of State amid criticism of her handling of the Benghazi attacks. Rice said at the time that she did not want her confirmation hearing to become a distraction for the White House. The national security post does not require Senate confirmation.

Neither Obama nor Rice mentioned the Benghazi controversy during Wednesday’s ceremony. Rice said she looked forward to working with lawmakers from both parties “to protect the United States, advance our global leadership and promote the values Americans hold dear.”

Rice’s selection was greeted by a muted response from some Republicans who had earlier accused her of being part of an administration cover-up in the Benghazi attacks.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, one of Rice’s harshest critics, wrote on Twitter Wednesday that he disagreed with her appointment but would “make every effort” to work with her on important matters. And Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the foreign relations committee, said he had spoken with Rice and looked forward “to working with her on shaping important foreign policy and national security issues.”

Other Must-Read Stories