- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 23, 2005

Sen. John Kerry searched for his new place in the political landscape as his rival took the oath of office for a second term as president.

Mr. Kerry emerged after a brief hibernation from the rough-and-tumble of politics to fire broadsides at Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and to cast a vote that anchors the leftward lean of his Democratic Party.

The Massachusetts senator’s prominent perch at the inauguration Thursday, just to the left of President Bush, underscores the difficulty of returning in the glare of Republican domination of Washington.

“It was very awkward,” a Democratic aide said of the seat Mr. Kerry was assigned at the front edge of the inaugural balcony. “They wanted to embarrass him.”

Mr. Kerry privately expressed discomfort about the location of his seat. He speculated that Republicans wanted to position him so television cameras could easily capture his reaction to Mr. Bush’s speech.

Seats were assigned by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, dominated by Republicans. The panel is chaired by Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, and co-chaired by Sen. Christopher Dodd, Connecticut Democrat. A committee spokesman did not return a call Friday.

Mr. Kerry arrived at his seat early and, despite scattered boos from Republicans in the crowd, smiled and waved. At one point, Mr. Kerry even joked with Republican parents with children in tow about wanting to “convert all these kids for the future.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Kerry made his first high-profile foray into the political fray since losing November’s election when he sharply questioned Miss Rice. On Wednesday, he renewed his criticism and cast one of the two Judiciary Committee votes against her nomination.

Mr. Kerry scolded Miss Rice for saying the insurgency in Iraq was some sort of unforeseen consequence after Saddam Hussein’s army “melted away in the countryside.”

“Well, that wasn’t unforeseen,” Mr. Kerry said. “It’s exactly what they did in ‘91. And we in fact encouraged them to do it because we leafleted and broadcast and told them that if they disbanded, we would pay them and they would not suffer any consequences for putting down their arms and going home and getting out of uniform.”

Mr. Kerry then seemed to place some blame for the insurgency at the feet of Miss Rice and Mr. Bush.

“So, we told them to do that,” he continued. “But we didn’t pay them. We went back on that promise. And they got angry and organized.”

Mr. Kerry sent a letter to supporters explaining his stand against Miss Rice, along with Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, in the 16-2 committee vote.

“Dr. Rice is a principal architect, implementer and defender of a series of administration policies that have not made our country as secure as we should be and have alienated much-needed allies in our common cause of winning the war against terrorism,” Mr. Kerry wrote. “Regrettably, I did not see in Dr. Rice’s testimony before our committee any acknowledgment of the need to change course or of a new vision for America’s role in the world.”

Mr. Kerry renewed his demand that the president fire Mr. Rumsfeld.

“It’s a question of competence,” he said. “Poor planning at the Pentagon is letting American soldiers down.”

Mr. Kerry’s strident re-emergence did not go unnoticed. The liberal New Republic magazine castigated Mr. Kerry for “idiocy” for harboring “sour grapes” over his election loss and for his handling of the Rice hearing, and continued:

“At the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s January 18 hearing on Condoleezza Rice’s appointment as secretary of state, John Kerry, still exhibiting the dark sulk he has been wearing since November 2 (as if the election’s outcome, as in 2000, were really in dispute), addressed the nominee by repeating the confusing tropes about Iraq that helped lose him his big place in history.”

Mr. Kerry is confident of a mandate from his voters, a spokesman insisted.

“John Kerry’s returned to the Senate to be a voice for the 57 million Americans who voted for a new direction on November 2nd,” David Wade said. “Anyone who knows John Kerry understands he’s a fighter, and he’s fighting with all his energy for the issues that have been his passion for decades, and he won’t allow anyone in Washington to retreat from the promise of health care or a foreign policy that makes America safe. I don’t envy the Tom DeLay Republicans who stand in his way.”

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