The nomination of Sen. John F. Kerry as secretary of state prompted a frantic shuffle on Capitol Hill, where congressional sources now say Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey will replace the Massachusetts Democrat as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
The shuffle also likely means Mr. Menendez will preside over Mr. Kerry's nomination hearings and will also preside over the expected hearing when current Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testifies on the Sept. 11 terrorist assault in Benghazi, Libya.
"Nothing in the Senate is simple," quipped one congressional aide with intimate knowledge of the scheduling headaches Wednesday. "Technically it would be impossible for Senator Kerry to preside over his own hearing."
Another aide, also close the the situation, said that Mr. Kerry also "won't be presiding over the Benghazi hearing," the precise timing of which has yet to be determined but is likely to fall sometime between the President Obama's Jan. 21 inauguration and the end of this month.
Mrs. Clinton had been slated to testify on Capitol Hill in late December after the release of an internal State Department report on the Benghazi attack concluded that senior department officials ignored intelligence and security warnings that might have prevented the attack.
The attack killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stephens, State Department official Sean Smith and former Navy SEALS Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.
Mrs. Clinton canceled her December testimony after dehydration from a stomach virus caused her to faint and hit her head, which subsequently led to a blood clot inside her skull. She was discharged last week from New York-Presbyterian Hospital and doctors have said the clot did not result in a stroke or neurological damage and that they expect her to recover fully.
While the foreign relations committee's ranking member, Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, said this week that Mrs. Clinton was now likely to testify on the morning of Jan. 22, the State Department asserted on Wednesday that no date has yet been finalized for the hearing.
Mr. Kerry, meanwhile, decided against chairing that hearing because "he doesn't want to put his colleagues in an awkward position," a congressional aide said, adding that Mr. Kerry will also be busy preparing for his own confirmation hearings.
What remains to be seen is whether Mr. Menendez will be tapped to chair both.
"If circumstances necessitate that Senator Menendez preside over a hearing of the Foreign Relations committee, he will be prepared to do so," Tricia Enright, his press secretary, said on Wednesday.
While Mrs. Enright declined to comment further, other sources on Capitol Hill said it was likely Mr. Menendez will preside over both hearings.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, is more senior on the committee than Mr. Menendez and under Senate tradition could take over as chairman.
But Peter True, Mrs. Boxer's press secretary, told The Times on Wednesday that the Californian intends to stay put in her current position as the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
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