Ever since United Nations ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name from consideration, observers on Capitol Hill correctly assumed President Obama’s short list for secretary of State had narrowed to one person: Sen. John Kerry. After all, Obama was genuinely conflicted between the two, and Rice’s withdrawal meant the choice was effectively made for him-- with the added bonus, of course, that Senate Republicans would back the well-respected Massachusetts Democrat.
For weeks, Republicans hammered Rice for her appearances on talk shows initially attributing the September 11 attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed ambassador Chris Stevens to spontaneous protests turned violent after an anti-Muslim film. Their opposition ultimately led to Rice pulling her name last week to avoid a “lengthy, disruptive and costly” nomination process that would politicize Obama’s potential pick.
With Kerry's nomination on Friday, Republicans score on three counts. Not only did they manage to dislodge Rice, they are likely to work well with their colleague who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee. And Kerry's departure from the chamber means the GOP even has another shot to gain back the Massachusetts Senate seat they lost in November to Democrat Elizabeth Warren. (The popular Republican Scott Brown would likely lead the pack in a special election, and Democrats, having already spent almost $40 million to boot him, may not be able to overcome him again.)
While Kerry’s expected confirmation could bring minor re-hashing of issues that plagued him in the past as a presidential candidate, his work as Foreign Relations Chairman has garnered praise on both sides of the aisle. Both Democrats and Republicans credit Kerry with several foreign policy successes, including persuading Afghan President Hamid Karzai to hold a runoff election in 2009 after the first round was plagued with fraud, and helping negotiate the 2010 nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.
And so the GOP have rallied-- for weeks now-- behind Kerry as an alternative to Rice, and continued to praise him on Friday. “Senator Kerry has a very strong depth of knowledge on foreign policy issues and is certainly qualified,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire told The Alley. “I look forward to speaking with him about his views and his vision for the office.” Other Republicans including Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Susan Collins of Maine, and John Barrasso of Wyoming have said the well-respected senator would be easily confirmed by his colleagues. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska told The New York Times that Kerry “would do a great job,” insisting that “anyone who has worked with Senator Kerry knows his good, hard work ethic and his expertise on foreign relations.”
Senate Armed Services ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., stood alongside Kerry earlier this month, urging ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. McCain referred to his colleague—in a joking deadpan—as “Mr. Secretary.” With Rice still in the running at that point, you can’t drop a much clearer hint than that.
Obama's pick for Defense Secretary to replace the retiring Leon Panetta is not expected today. In an ironic twist, Obama's reported top pick, retired Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, could be far more contentious than Kerry's nomination on Capitol Hill. Neoconservative critics are already questioning Hagel's loud opposition to the war in Iraq; advocacy for defense budget cuts; skepticism about military action against Iran's nuclear facilities by Israel and Iran; votes against sanctions on Tehran; and disparaging remarks about the "Jewish lobby" in Washington. While senators have not yet promised to oppose Hagel's nomination if he is chosen over other candidates in the running, like former undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy and deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Republican senators have insisted Hagel would face some tough questions on the Hill.
And so we wait.