Senate panel approves Kerry nomination

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John Kerry

(AP file photo)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday swiftly and unanimously approved President Barack Obama’s choice of Sen. John Kerry to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state.

By voice vote, the panel approved the nomination of the five-term Massachusetts Democrat, who has been a member of the committee for 28 years and led it for the past four. The full Senate likely will vote on Tuesday afternoon.

Kerry did not attend the session in the ornate diplomatic room in the Capitol. In his absence, Democrats and Republicans praised Kerry and remarked on his extensive grasp of the issues during his confirmation hearing last Thursday.

“Long-winded,” joked Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a Kerry friend who had introduced the senator at that hearing.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who succeeds Kerry as committee chairman, said the senator would be a “formidable secretary of state.”

Obama chose Kerry, 69, the son of a diplomat, decorated Vietnam veteran and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, to succeed Clinton, who is stepping down after four years. The senator had pined for the top diplomatic job that went to Clinton after Obama’s 2008 election.

Kerry has served as Obama’s unofficial envoy, soothing relations with leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The ease with which the Senate is acting on Kerry’s nomination is certain to disappear with Obama’s two other national security nominees — former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel for defense secretary and John Brennan for CIA director.

Hagel faces strong opposition from some of his former GOP colleagues who question his support for reductions in the nuclear arsenal and cuts in defense spending. Lawmakers also have questioned whether he is sufficiently supportive of Israel and strongly opposed to any outreach to Iran.

Democrats have rallied for Hagel and he has the announced support of at least a dozen members in advance of his confirmation hearing on Thursday. Six Republicans have said they would vote against him, with some opposing Obama’s choice even before the president’s announcement.

Brennan faces questions from the GOP about White House leaks of classified information and from Democrats about the administration’s use of drones.

As a White House emissary, Kerry has tamped down diplomatic fires for Obama. He also has stepped ahead of the administration on a handful of crises. He joined McCain as an early proponent of a more aggressive policy toward Libya, pushing for using military forces to impose a “no-fly zone” over Libya as Moammar Gadhafi’s forces killed rebels and citizens.

He was one of the early voices calling for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down as the revolution roiled the nation two years ago.

During his tenure, Kerry has pushed for reducing the number of nuclear weapons, shepherding a U.S.-Russia treaty through the Senate in December 2010, and has cast climate change as a national security threat, joining forces with Republicans on legislation that faced too many obstacles to win congressional passage.

He has led delegations to Syria and met a few times with President Bashar Assad, now a pariah in U.S. eyes after months of civil war and bloodshed as the government looks to put down a people’s rebellion. Figuring out an end-game for the Middle East country would demand all of Kerry’s skills.

The selection of Kerry closes a political circle with Obama. In 2004, it was White House hopeful Kerry who asked a largely unknown Illinois state senator to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic convention in Boston, handing the national stage to Obama. Kerry lost that election to President George W. Bush. Four years later, Obama was the White House hopeful who succeeded where Kerry had failed.

Kerry would be the first man to fill the secretary of state job since Colin Powell eight years ago. Condoleezza Rice served as secretary of state in President George W. Bush’s second term, and Clinton has held the post in Obama’s first term.

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