President Barack Obama named Massachusetts Senator John Kerry as his choice to become the next U.S. secretary of state, saying he has the respect and trust of leaders around the world.
Kerry would replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has previously said she planned to leave the post. Obama said Kerry would continue the work that she’s done to restore U.S. influence globally.
Kerry “is not going to need a lot of on-the-job training,” Obama said in making the announcement at the White House today. His fellow Democrat’s knowledge of U.S. policy and relationships with foreign leaders “makes him a perfect choice” to become secretary of state, Obama said.
The nomination of Kerry, 69, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is subject to Senate confirmation and sets in motion a shuffle of Obama’s top national security and foreign policy advisers for his second term.
Kerry became the leading contender for the post after Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, withdrew from consideration. He is a longtime ally of Obama. At the 2004 Democratic convention where Kerry became the party’s presidential nominee, Obama was selected to deliver the keynote address. An Illinois state senator at the time who was running for the U.S. Senate seat he would win that November, Obama gained national attention with his speech.
Kerry, a combat-decorated Vietnam War veteran who first became known nationally as a critic of that war, will win quick confirmation from his fellow senators, said Martin Indyk, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and director for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
The nomination hearings will be conducted by the committee that he’s led for the past four years and “after so many years of service in the Senate, he is a popular figure on both sides of the aisle,” Indyk said in an e-mail. Kerry has been in the Senate for almost 28 years.
Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who are among their party’s leaders on foreign policy issues, praised Kerry and said they expected to give his confirmation support, even if they disagree with him on some issues.
“I think Senator Kerry was a very solid choice by the president,” Graham, of South Carolina, said at a news conference with McCain, of Arizona, and Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. “He knows most of the world leaders, so when he goes into a country he will be a known quantity.”
Clinton is recuperating from a concussion she sustained after becoming dehydrated and fainting and wasn’t at the announcement or at a memorial service earlier in the day for the late Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. Obama said he talked to her this morning and that she “could not be more excited” about the choice of Kerry.
Obama’s comment and a statement from Clinton issued by the State Department saying she spoke to Kerry today to congratulate him leave unanswered questions about her condition and when she’ll return to the State Department.
Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters only that “she continues to be on the mend and continues to recover.”
Indyk said following Clinton in the office, Kerry “will likely be focused on taking advantage of her success to negotiate new agreements that will help shape the emerging global order.”
Obama also will be picking a replacement for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who doesn’t plan to stay for Obama’s second term. Former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, a Republican, is a leading candidate for that post, according to an administration official.
The job of Central Intelligence Agency director also is open. Obama is considering Deputy Director Michael Morell, who took over as acting director when David H. Petraeus resigned last month following the revelation of an extramarital affair, the official said. The other leading candidate for the job is White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan.
The president’s decision to wait on announcing his choices to lead the Pentagon and CIA reflects political tensions between Obama and Senate Republicans involved in the confirmation process, as well as the end-of-year distractions posed by negotiations to avert the so-called fiscal cliff.
Hagel has drawn criticism from some Republicans over past comments opposing the troop surge during the Iraq war, questioning economic sanctions against Iran and citing the influence of the “Jewish lobby” on behalf of Israel. His nomination hearings would be conducted by the Armed Services Committee, where McCain is the ranking Republican.
“I am concerned about many of the comments that he made, and has made, like reference to a, quote, Jewish lobby, which I don’t think exists,” McCain said. “And I think many of those comments and other positions he has taken will be the subject of the Senate Armed Services Committee.”
Confirmation of Kerry for the top U.S, diplomatic post will open a Senate seat in Massachusetts. Among those who may enter the race in a special election to replace him is Scott Brown, a Republican who was defeated in November by Democrat Elizabeth Warren as he sought a full Senate term. Brown won a special election in Massachusetts in January 2010 to fill the seat vacated by the death of longtime Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy.
Potential Democratic candidates for Kerry’s seat include members of the state’s House delegation, particularly those from the Boston area -- Mike Capuano, Ed Markey, Stephen Lynch and Bill Keating.
In the new Senate that convenes in January and will include Kerry, Democrats will control 55 seats to 45 for Republicans.
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