Obama To Nominate Kerry for Secretary of State

Getty Images

By Reuters

Published December 21, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

President Barack Obama on Friday nominated John Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, calling the veteran U.S. senator the “perfect choice” for America’s top diplomat as he began reshaping his national security team for a second term.

Obama settled on Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, after the front-runner, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, withdrew from consideration last week.

Even as Obama put one important piece of his revamped Cabinet in place, he held off on naming a new defense secretary. The delay came in the face of a growing backlash from critics of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, who is considered a leading candidate to replace Leon Panetta at the Pentagon.

With Kerry standing at his side, Obama expressed confidence that the senator - a stalwart supporter who has long coveted the State Department job - would win swift confirmation from his Senate colleagues.

“As we turn the page on a decade of war, he understands that we’ve got to harness all elements of American power and ensure that they’re working together,” Obama said. “John’s earned the respect and confidence of leaders around the world. He is not going to need a lot of on-the-job training.”

The announcement fell short of the White House’s earlier hopes of rolling out national security appointments, including a new CIA director, all at once before Christmas. That ambition was thwarted not only by the Hagel controversy but other matters that have occupied Obama’s attention - the standoff over the “fiscal cliff” and last week’s Newtown gun massacre.

Kerry, 69, will take over from Clinton, who has been consistently rated as the most popular member of the president’s Cabinet.

But he will also have to pick up the pieces after a scathing official inquiry found serious security lapses by the State Department in the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya - a report that has tarnished the final days of Clinton’s tenure.

Kerry’s nomination follows a political firestorm that engulfed Rice, seen as the early favorite for the State job, spearheaded by Republicans fiercely critical of her role in the administration’s early explanations for the Benghazi assault.

Rice was defended by Obama, but she said on Dec. 13 she was pulling her name from consideration to avoid a potentially lengthy and disruptive confirmation process.

Kerry, known for his role as a Democratic power broker in the Senate, offers no such challenges.

His selection sets a pragmatic tone as Obama begins overhauling his national security team.

Kerry will be the leading Cabinet member charged with tackling pressing global challenges, ranging from upheaval in the Middle East to Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West and winding down the war in Afghanistan - all at a time of fiscal austerity at home.

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.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.