President Obama on Friday nominated Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts to be secretary of state, succeeding Hillary Rodham Clinton and filling the first key post of the president’s second-term national security team.
Mr. Obama’s decision to tap Mr. Kerry, his party’s former presidential nominee in 2004, comes as no surprise after Susan Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, took her name out of the running for the post last week.
Announcing the nomination in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, Mr. Obama said Mr. Kerry wouldn’t need “a lot of on-the-job training” after playing “a central role in nearly every foreign policy debate over three decades.”
“It is fair to say that few individuals know as many presidents and prime ministers, or grasp more foreign policies as firmly as John Kerry,” said Mr. Obama, standing alongside Vice President Joseph R. Biden and the senator’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry.
“Few individuals know as many presidents and prime ministers or have a better grasp of our foreign policy,” said Mr. Obama, standing alongside Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Teresa Heinz Kerry.
Joking that “nothing brings you closer than debate preparation,” Mr. Obama called Mr. Kerry a “great friend” and thanked him for helping him practice for this year’s presidential debates against GOP opponent Mitt Romney and for helping him win Senate approval of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia among other foreign policy initiatives.
“I have called on his talents and diplomatic skills on many occasions … each time he has been exemplary,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Obama also recalled Mr. Kerry’s role in catapulting him onto the national political stage by giving him the key note speaking role at the 2004 Democratic nominating convention in Boston even though he was only a “young, Illinois state senator” at the time.
The president returned the favor by giving Mr. Kerry a key foreign policy speech at the Democratic convention in Charlotte this year, which was generally viewed as the Massachusetts Democrat’s audition for secretary of state.
Mr. Kerry used the prime-time speaking role to blast Mr. Romney’s foreign policy record and said he and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, would be the “most inexperienced foreign policy twosome” to run for the White House in decades.
Although outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is still at home recovering from a concussion, Mr. Obama said he had spoken to her that morning and that she deeply regrets missing the nomination announcement.
He also spoke glowingly of Mrs. Clinton’s record, noting that she has traveled to more countries in four years than any other secretary of state in history.
“I am looking forward to paying tribute to her service in the days to come,” he said.
In a statement heaping praise on Mr. Kerry, Mrs. Clinton said he would make an excellent choice and hoped he would be confirmed quickly.
“I have been privileged to know John for many years and to call him a friend, colleague and partner,” she said. “He will bring decades of service to our country and deep experience in international affairs.”
“John Kerry has been tested – in war, in government, and in diplomacy. Time and again, he has proven his mettle.”
Mr. Kerry did not speak, demurring to the president as the two left the room as the pool of reporters shouted questions at them about the fiscal cliff.
On the Foreign Relations panel, Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, likely will replace Mr. Kerry as chairman.
Mr. Menendez hailed Mr. Kerry’s nomination, calling him “an extraordinary choice for extraordinary times.”
“He will be an exceptional secretary of state,” he said in a statement. “His life and work have led him to this place, and American will be safer and more secure under his leadership.”
Sen. John McCain, who lost the 2008 election to Mr. Obama and has since become his toughest critic on foreign policy matters, particularly on Benghazi and Ms. Rice’s misleading characterizations of the attack just days after it had occurred, issued a brief reaction to Mr. Kerry’s nomination.
“Our nation faces complex challenges around the world that demand strong American leadership, and the next secretary of state has big shoes to fill,” he said. “Sen. John Kerry has served our nation with honor and distinction for many years. I congratulate him on the nomination, and l look forward to considering it as the Senate fulfills its responsibilities to provide advice and consent.”
Mr. McCain finishes his six-year term serving as the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee this year and will join the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is charged with vetting several key national security nominations.
After several weeks of searing criticism from Mr. McCain and other Republicans, late last week Ms. Rice asked the president to withdraw her name after enduring a barrage of criticism about her statements about the Benghazi attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others.
Mr. Oba,a made no mention of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that marred the end of Mrs. Clinton’s tenure, instead giving Mrs. Clinton credit for helping his administration end the war in Iraq, wind down the war in Afghanistan, put “Al Qaeda’s core on the path to defeat” and improve America’s standing in the world.
“I’m looking forward to paying tribute to her service in the days to come,” he said.
Late last week, Ms. Rice asked the president to withdraw her name after enduring a barrage of criticism about her statements about the Benghazi attack that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others.
At first, Mr. Obama came to his longtime foreign policy adviser’s defense, but last week when the continued drumbeat against her failed to dissipate, Mrs. Rice announced she would not longer seek the post.
In his role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Kerry led a hearing on Benghazi Thursday after an independent panel released a report about the lapses in security preceding the attack and blamed the State Department for failing to react to heightened risks.
During the hearing, Mr. Kerry said Congress needs to direct more money to diplomatic resources, although he stressed that embassies should not be turned into fortresses and isolate diplomats from the countries where they’re working.
“There will always be a tension between the diplomatic imperative to get ‘outside the wire’ and the security standards that require our diplomats to work behind high walls, concertina wire and full-body searches,” he said. “We do not want to concertina-wire America off from the world.”