President Barack Obama is expected to nominate Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, a source familiar with the process said on Saturday.
Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president in 2004 and a stalwart Obama supporter, had been widely tipped as the likely candidate for top U.S. diplomat following the withdrawal last week of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.
Rice, a close Obama confidante, withdrew her name from consideration after heavy fire from Republicans for remarks she made in the aftermath of a Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Clinton has is expected to leave Obama’a administration amid widespread speculation she will seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2016.
Republicans have criticized the Obama administration for its early public explanations of the attack, and trained most of their firepower on Rice, who went on television to say that preliminary information suggested the assault was the result of protests over an anti-Muslim video made in California rather than a premeditated strike.
Rice, defended by Obama and other senior members of the administration, said on Thursday she was withdrawing her name from consideration to avoid a potentially lengthy and disruptive confirmation process in the U.S. Senate.
Kerry, known both nationally through his presidential run and in the U.S. Senate where he has long been a senior Democratic powerbroker, offers no such challenges.
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, often serving as a low-profile emissary for the White House.
Even Republicans in Congress said they expected their colleague to sail through the confirmation process.
“I think John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues,” Maine Republican Susan Collins said recently.
Kerry’s departure from the Senate forces the Democrats to defend his seat.
The just-defeated but still-popular 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 for Kerry’s seat if he leaves.
Republicans criticized Rice for being too much of a political ally of Obama’s rather a stateswoman. But Kerry has his own close ties to the Democratic president.
Kerry supported his fellow senator early in his 2008 presidential campaign and was a leading contender to be Obama’s first secretary of state.
He served as an important ally in the Senate after Obama won the White House and has also played important supportive roles for the White House in foreign policy. Obama sent Kerry to Afghanistan in 2009, when he helped talk President Hamid Karzai into agreeing to a runoff election.