An unusually personal spat between Senate Republicans and President Barack Obama over U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice broke into open view Wednesday, setting up what could be a protracted power struggle if Obama decides to nominate her for secretary of State.

Newly assertive after winning re-election, Obama said it was “outrageous” for GOP senators to attack Rice over the handling of the September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The episode casts new uncertainty over the shape of Obama’s national security team going into his second term, only compounded by the unexpected resignation of David H. Petraeus from the CIA.

Obama was defiant after Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Armed Services panel, vowed Wednesday to do “whatever’s necessary” to block a Rice nomination.

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