By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama gave a show of moral support to his embattled ambassador to the United Nations on Wednesday, calling Susan Rice "extraordinary" and prompting applause from his Cabinet during a meeting at the White House.
Rice, who is considered a top candidate to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has been meeting this week with senators on Capitol Hill who have been critical of her initial remarks about what prompted the September 11 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
Several Republican senators, including former 2008 presidential candidate John McCain, have kept up their criticism of the ambassador after their visits.
Asked whether he thought Rice was being treated fairly in those meetings, Obama at first demurred.
"Susan Rice is extraordinary," he then said, adding he "couldn't be prouder of the job she's done."
The rest of the assembled members of the Cabinet, including Clinton, who sat next to Obama, broke out into applause.
Rice, who is a member of the Cabinet in her role as ambassador to the United Nations, was sitting near the end of the table, smiling.
Obama was holding his first Cabinet meeting since his re-election on November 6. Several of the secretaries, including Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, are not expected to stay for his second term.
(Editing by Stacey Joyce)