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Obama taps Kerry for secretary of State

Dec. 21, 2012 - 11:54AM   |  
President Obama will nominate veteran senator and 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry, who is currently serving as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for secretary of State, officials said Friday.
President Obama will nominate veteran senator and 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry, who is currently serving as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for secretary of State, officials said Friday. (AFP)

In a move that seemed inevitable following the torpedoing of Ambassador Susan Rice’s candidacy, President Barack Obama named Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., as his nominee for the position of Secretary of State on Dec. 21.

The position had been held by Obama’s once political opponent Hillary Clinton since 2009. While Rice was viewed as a front runner early in the selection process, aggressive opposition from Republican senators in response to Rice’s comments about the Benghazi incident killed her candidacy, and she withdrew her name Dec. 13.

At a press conference announcing his choice Friday, President Obama noted Clinton’s efforts while emphasizing Kerry’s qualifications.

“Over the last four years, Hillary has been everywhere,” Obama said. “Today though, I’m looking ahead to my second term. And I am very proud to announce my choice for America’s next Secretary of State, John Kerry. In a sense John’s entire life has prepared him for this role.”

Obama also clearly highlighted the close relationship between the State Department and the Defense Department, emphasizing Kerry’s service in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War and the use of a variety of mechanisms to combat international issues in the future. The relationship between the two agencies was viewed as frigid before Clinton came into office, and her work with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his successor Leon Panetta have brought State Department regional knowledge and military operations much closer. One of Kerry’s challenges will be maintaining those improved relations as regional conflicts don’t appear to be getting simpler.

“As we turn the page on a decade of war, he understands that we have to harness all elements of American power and ensure that they’re working together.” Obama said. “Diplomatic and development, economic and political, military and intelligence, as well as the power of our values which inspire so many people around the world.”

Kerry spent the press conference nodding and occasionally smiling, but did not offer any comments of his own.

The senior Massachusetts senator is considered a practiced hand in the realm of diplomacy, having served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since 2009. Kerry also spent moments during Obama’s first term working as a foreign relations Mr. Fix-it, traveling to Pakistan to help calm concerns about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and working in Afghanistan to help the electoral process.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., congratulated Kerry in a statement released by his office.

“Our nation faces complex challenges around the world which demand strong American leadership, and the next Secretary of State has big shoes to fill,” the statement said. “Senator John Kerry has served our nation with honor and distinction for many years. I congratulate him on this nomination, and look forward to considering it as the Senate fulfills its responsibilities to provide advice and consent.”

If he is confirmed, a near certainty given the bipartisan support he enjoys, Democrats will be forced to find a replacement for his senate seat. Scott Brown, the junior Senator from the state who was defeated by Elizabeth Warren in November, will likely run again. Brown lost by about 200,000 votes, and with his name recognition he will likely serve as a formidable opponent for any challenger.

Several commentators theorized that one of the reasons for GOP opposition to Rice was to force the selection of Kerry, giving the party a chance to pick up a senate seat.

Rumors quickly swirled that a member of the Kennedy clan would run to hold the seat for the Democrats.

Hillary Clinton did not attend the press conference, as she is still recovering from a concussion suffered last weekend. The State Department said that Clinton had picked up some stomach bug in her recent travels and had fainted, causing a concussion and preventing her from testifying this week during a string of hearings about the Benghazi incident.

The Accountability Review Board report on Benghazi, a legally required review of the incident, was critical of the agency’s preparations but did not lay the blame at Clinton’s feet. However, concerns about administration’s larger response could hurt Clinton if she runs for the presidency in 2016, a possibility she hasn’t publicly suggested.

In a statement released by the State Department shortly after the press conference, Clinton voiced her support for Kerry.

“John Kerry has been tested — in war, in government, and in diplomacy,” Clinton wrote. “Time and again, he has proven his mettle.”

Obama noted his close personal relationship with John Kerry, as the two men served together on the Senate Foreign Relation’s Committee and, more recently, John Kerry was Obama’s Mitt Romney stand-in for debate preparation.

“Nothing brings two people closer together than weeks of debate prep,” he said. “John I’m looking forward to working with you instead of debating you.”

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