Washington (CNN) – Vice President Joe Biden praised U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice on the eve of congressional hearings over last year’s deadly terror attack against a U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya – a controversy in which Rice found herself buried deep only days later.

Describing her as one of the “brightest, most accomplished” people he’s ever met, Biden said he’s never seen a U.S. ambassador to the U.N. “who has more ability to promote the interests of the United States of America.”

“When she speaks…no one wonders whether or not she is speaking for the president,” the vice president said at a gala for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which honored Rice with an award Tuesday night.