U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks to employees during his first day at the State Department. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
Less than 72 hours after former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left the State Department’s C Street lobby to applause and cheers, her successor filled the same room and offered some humor in introductory remarks.
Secretary of State John Kerry, sworn in at a private ceremony on Friday, began his first day at Foggy Bottom Feb. 4 by expressing gratitude for the work that Clinton has done and noting how difficult it will be to replace her.
“So here’s the big question before the country and the world and the State Department after the last eight years: Can a man actually run the State Department?” Kerry said to laughter. “I don’t know. As the saying goes, I have big heels to fill.”
In a gathering shortly after 9:00 a.m., Kerry made his way through the crowd to a landing on the eastern staircase before beginning his remarks, which included multiple mentions of Clinton, who was hugely popular among the staff at the State Department.
“I want to begin by thanking my predecessor, Secretary Clinton, and I want to thank her entire team,” Kerry said. “They tirelessly advocated the values of our country and pushed for the accomplishment of any number of things to advance the interests of our nation. I know from my conversations with Hillary how passionate she was about this undertaking and how much confidence and gratitude she had for the work that every single one of you do. And I just want to join with all of you today in saying to her: Job well done, the nation is grateful, the world is grateful. Thank you, Hillary Clinton, and thank you to her team. Thank you.”
Kerry also shared his close personal commitment to the role of diplomacy, mentioning a number of relatives who had been involved with work at the United Nations as well as part of his childhood spent overseas while his father served as a Foreign Service officer.
Kerry held up his diplomatic passport, issued when he was 11 years old, and talked about his time in Germany not long after World War II. Kerry, however, declined to display the boyish picture inside. He made reference to the four Americans who died in Benghazi, Libya, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, while vowing to make the protection of State Department personnel a top priority.
After being sworn in Feb. 1, Kerry spent much of the weekend on the phone with world leaders, establishing contact in some cases and renewing relationships with others. Monday was set to be spent largely focused on briefings to get Kerry up to date on happenings at the agency, including an afternoon briefing on what State has done thus far to implement the recommendations of an independent panel that reviewed the shortcomings surrounding the Benghazi incident.
Kerry concluded his remarks by pointing to his respect and need for the mission of the State Department.
“This is a remarkable place, and I’m here today to ask you, on behalf of the country, I need your help,” he said. “Here, we can do the best of things that you can do in government. That’s what excites me. We get to try to make our nation safer. We get to try to make peace in the world, a world where there is far too much conflict and far too much killing.
“There are alternatives. We get to lift people out of poverty. We get to try to cure disease. We get to try to empower people with human rights. We get to speak to those who have no voice. We get to talk about empowering people through our ideals, and through those ideals hopefully they can change their lives. That’s what’s happening in the world today. We get to live the ideals of our nation and in doing so I think we can make our country stronger and we can actually make the world more peaceful.”
After his remarks, he made his way through the crowd to his office, stopping to shake hands and even posing for several pictures with employees.