U.S. Sen. John Kerry will go before his colleagues in the United State Senate for confirmation as the country’s next secretary of state after President Barack Obama made his nomination official on Friday at a press conference in the White House.
“In a sense, John’s entire life has prepared him for this role,” Obama said, calling Kerry a “great friend” and informally referring to Kerry throughout his remarks by his first name.
If confirmed, Kerry will leave a 28-year career in the U.S. Senate to become the nation’s top diplomat. As chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry has been intimately involved in the country’s foreign dealings, and had been tapped by Obama before on several occasions to travel to the Sudan and Afghanistan on behalf of the administration to negotiate through difficult circumstances.
Saying “nobody knows more presidents” or foreign heads of state, Obama said Kerry “won’t need much on the job training.”
At the White House, Kerry stood to Obama’s left while Vice President Joe Biden and Kerry’s wife Teresa Heinz Kerry joined the president and the senator at the podium. Kerry did not speak following the president’s brief introduction of the senator as his choice to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who could not attend the announcement but who Obama said was “excited” by the selection of Kerry.
After running unsuccessfully for Congress in 1972, Kerry started his political career as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts under former Gov. Michael Dukakis. A Vietnam War veteran, Kerry was also an outspoken critic of that conflict when he returned from combat, and Obama credited Kerry and others with restoring diplomatic ties with Vietnam that “sent a powerful message of progress and healing.”
The political careers of Obama and Kerry have been intertwined since 2004 when Kerry helped catapult Obama on to the national stage by asking the then-state senator from Illinois who was running for the U.S. Senate to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Boston.
More recently, Kerry played the role of former Gov. Mitt Romney during the president’s debate preparations in the 2012 presidential election.
“Nothing brings two people closer together than weeks of debate prep. John, I’m looking forward to working with you rather than debating you,” Obama said. Obama said he was confident the Senate would confirm his nomination “quickly,” a factor that could have played a role in Kerry’s selection after Republican senators pledged to block U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, forcing her to withdraw her name from consideration.
Following the official announcement, statements of support for Kerry came from all corners of the Commonwealth as elected leaders and interest groups expressed their thanks for his service to Massachusetts and their confidence in his abilities to take over as secretary of state.
“Massachusetts is once again proud of John Kerry. He has had one of the most distinguished careers of anyone who has set foot on the floor of the U.S. Senate. He has always been there for Massachusetts, securing funding for important projects, fighting for a clean environment and being a leader of our very high-profile delegation. While at the same time, continuing a long tradition of Massachusetts’ statesmen in the Senate, John Kerry has been on the front lines of war and peace issues and he will make a superb Secretary of State,” Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh said in a statement.
Kerry’s selection to head the State Department will have major ramifications in Massachusetts where Gov. Deval Patrick will be appointing an interim senator to fill Kerry’s seat once he resigns, and a special election will be held as early as June to fill the seat on a more permanent basis until Kerry’s term expires in 2014.
Calling Kerry an “honorable individual” with a long-record of public service, House Minority Leader Brad Jones wished Kerry well as he turned his attention to the special election and the process that will be used to fill the seat.
“With the senior-Senator from Massachusetts being tapped to serve as Secretary of State, it is my sincere hope that no further public or private consideration is given to changing the law in Massachusetts as it pertains to appointing an interim United States Senator. Senator Kerry’s nomination, and all but certain confirmation, sets in motion a law that was last changed in 2009. Regardless of the merits of the way the law was crafted, it is the law and to change it to benefit any one party or individual would be wrong,” Jones said.
When Kerry ran for president, the Legislature changed the law to allow for a special election in order to prevent Gov. Mitt Romney from appointing a successor for the remainder of the six-year term. When Kerry lost, there was no need for a special election.
Lawmakers changed the law again in 2009, after Sen. Kennedy died, to allow Patrick to make an interim appointment until a special election was held. Patrick named Paul Kirk as the interim appointee, with Kirk appealing following his stint in Washington for more bipartisanship among his colleagues.
Legislative leaders have expressed no interest in changing the law again, though Sen. Barry Finegold acknowledged behind-the scenes rumbling about a change that could be used to head off a return of U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, the Wrentham Republican who won a 2010 special election but is leaving the Senate after losing to Elizabeth Warren.
Walsh said Democrats won’t need to change the law to retain Kerry’s seat. "After Sen. Kerry gets confirmed for the position, I am sure we will have a spirited primary and Democrats will win the special election because we have the best ideas and the best grassroots organization to deliver those ideas,” Walsh said.
Congratulating Kerry, one potential successor quickly acknowledged his interest in running.
“We are on the verge of a new era of America (sic) opportunity, and voters want new voices and new ideas. While there will be no vacancy until Senator Kerry is confirmed, in the next few weeks I will be meeting with people throughout the Commonwealth as I consider a run for senate,” state Sen. Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield) said. “In the meantime, I hope that all residents of Massachusetts have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and take a break from politics over the next week to enjoy some time with their families.”
Brown is seen as a likely Republican candidate, and former Gov. William Weld also just moved back to Massachusetts and there's speculation that he may run if Brown does not.
Among Democrats, several members of the Congressional delegation are interested in running, including Reps. Edward Markey, Niki Tsongas, Stephen Lynch and Michael Capuano. David Simas, a former top aide to Gov. Deval Patrick and President Obama, is reportedly considering the race and there are reports that Edward Kennedy Jr, son of the late senator, is giving the race consideration.
Patrick told reporters Friday he will continue weighing interim senator options, and said he would make his decision after Kerry is confirmed. He again ruled himself out as a candidate.
“I won’t have any decision or announcement until Secretary-designate Kerry is confirmed,” said Patrick, who also congratulated the state’s senior senator on the appointment.
Patrick said he would be looking for someone who would govern “in the spirit of John Kerry” and focus on federal funding sources with hopes to “continue to advance education and infrastructure.”
Patrick said he would consider both Washington D.C. insiders and outsiders, and said he hasn’t “gotten ahead of this process.”
Patrick did not say whether he would demand an agreement from an interim senator not to run, but said he thought it was “unlikely” for someone to be both an interim and a “successful candidate.”
Asked about how soon after Kerry’s confirmation Patrick would make up his mind, he said, “I expect to narrow my own thinking so we can be ready.” He also said, “I have a mental list.”
Patrick said he would probably not endorse in a special election primary. Asked if he thought voters were fatigued by another election, Patrick said, “I’m fatigued.”
The governor has no public events scheduled next week but plans to spend the holidays in Massachusetts.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo issued a statement in the wake of Kerry’s nomination.
“For four decades, Senator Kerry has been a fixture of political life in Massachusetts and America,” DeLeo said. “From his work on Beacon Hill as lieutenant governor to his outstanding service on Capitol Hill, Senator Kerry has exemplified the best qualities of public service toiling ceaselessly for the people and causes of Massachusetts as well as national causes including the environment, veterans’ affairs and foreign policy. As the Democratic nominee for President, he fought tirelessly for the highest ideals. He has been an ally and a good friend. We now await Governor Patrick’s appointment until a special election is held.”
[Andy Metzger contributed reporting]