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Kerry was greeted with backslaps as he arrived for his hearing and bantered easily with senators, wryly noting his role reversal after spending 29 years sitting up on the dais and questioning witnesses.
“I don’t want this to affect your opening questions, but let me say I have never seen a more distinguished and better-looking group of public officials in my life,” he said, to laughter.
Several senators said they were certain of his confirmation. Menendez said he felt the committee members were satisfied.
One note of discord came when a protester dressed in pink shouted “we need peace with Iran. … I am tired of my friends dying” before being removed by police.
Kerry visited Damascus repeatedly before the outbreak of Syria’s devastating civil war and was a proponent of U.S. re-engagement with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Kerry said there was a moment where Assad, impelled partly by his desire to find jobs for his “burgeoning” youthful population, had an interest in improving relations with the United States, but that he missed the opportunity.
“He has made a set of judgments that are inexcusable, that are reprehensible and I think is not long for remaining as the head of state in Syria,” Kerry said.
The Yale-educated son of a foreign service officer, Kerry, 69, has long specialized in foreign affairs. In the 1960s, he differed from some of his well-heeled peers by enlisting in the U.S. Navy and serving two tours of duty in Vietnam.
He broke from - and enraged - the military establishment by becoming a prominent anti-war demonstrator after returning home. Bitter personal attacks over that role helped cost him the presidency in 2004 when he lost to Republican George W. Bush.
Kerry, who first testified before the committee in 1971 to express his opposition to the Vietnam War, choked up when recalling his father’s service as a career diplomat.
“If you confirm me, I would take office as secretary proud that the Senate is in my blood - but equally proud that so, too, is the foreign service,” he said.