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SUBDUED NOMINATION ANNOUNCEMENT
Obama appeared subdued as he announced the nomination. He and Kerry had just returned from a funeral service for Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye at the National Cathedral.
Kerry looked on intently as Obama spoke, nodding occasionally. But the lawmaker known for sometimes long-winded speeches was not given a chance to address reporters at the White House. Clinton was absent due to illness but issued a statement saying Kerry would offer the “highest caliber leadership” at the State Department.
Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, has forged a close working relationship with Obama and gave him the keynote speech assignment at the 2004 Democratic convention that boosted a then little-known Illinois state legislator onto the national stage, opening the way for his meteoric rise.
After losing narrowly to Republican George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election, Kerry forged a new identity as a congressional leader on foreign policy. He often served as a low-profile emissary and diplomatic troubleshooter for the Obama White House in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria.
Kerry played the role of Mitt Romney in Obama’s debate practice during the 2012 campaign, and afterwards Kerry joked that he would need an “exorcism” to get the Republican out of his system. “Nothing brings two people closer together than weeks of debate prep,” Obama quipped to reporters on Friday.
White House aides acknowledge, however, that Kerry does not have as close of a personal bond with Obama as Rice has. She said, in a message on Twitter, that she looked forward to “working with him on the president’s national security team.”
Kerry’s departure from the Senate forces Democrats to defend his seat, where the party has only a slim majority. Just-defeated Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown, who took office in early 2010 after winning the last special election for a Massachusetts seat, is widely expected to run.
The drumbeat of criticism against Hagel, a moderate Republican who has often broken with his party’s views, could prompt Obama to reconsider whether it would be worth the likely confirmation fight if he were to chose him for the defense post.
The administration has given no sign of dropping Hagel from the short list. On Thursday it joined allies rallying to support him against an onslaught over his record on Israel and Iran led by some pro-Israel groups and neo-conservatives, but the attacks have also come from some former colleagues on Capitol Hill.
He has also come under fire from gay rights groups for remarks questioning whether an “openly aggressively gay” nominee could be an effective U.S. ambassador. Hagel issued an apology on Friday for the 1988 comment, saying it was “insensitive.”
It is the second time since Obama’s re-election that the White House has had to defend a Cabinet candidate who has yet to be nominated, a source of frustration for his advisers.
Also in the mix for the Pentagon job are Michele Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense for policy, and Ashton Carter, the current deputy defense secretary.
The top candidates for CIA director, to replace David Petraeus who stepped down over an extramarital affair, are thought to be Michael Morell, currently acting CIA director, and John Brennan, a top counterterrorism adviser to Obama and a former CIA official.