Senators: John Kerry likely to be confirmed quickly

3:50 PM, Jan 24, 2013   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) -- Secretary of State nominee John Kerry testified Thursday at a confirmation hearing that sounded very much like a coronation.

The top State Department job is "a position you have most deservedly earned," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., acting chairman of the committee normally led by Kerry himself.

Other senators from both parties also praised Kerry, as he pledged to keep the United States strong in the world and to prevent Iran from obtaining the means to make a nuclear weapon.

"Our policy is not containment, it is prevention," Kerry said of Iran, adding that he and President Obama would prefer a diplomatic solution in Iran, but made clear that force remains an option.

The warm feelings toward Kerry weren't unanimous: Police had to remove a protester who yelled about U.S. policy toward Iran and the Middle East in general.

After her ejection, Kerry cited the need for all voices to be heard; he also referred to his own first appearance before Congress, as a Vietnam protester in 1971.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the committee's top Republican, told Kerry, "I do know that your confirmation is going to be speedy."

In his testimony, Kerry pledged to keep the United States strong in the world. He added that the task includes ending U.S. congressional "gridlock" on economic policy and other issues. "Now more than ever," Kerry said, "foreign policy is economic policy."

Kerry also endorsed another, more embattled Obama nominee: Defense Secretary-designate Chuck Hagel. While some Republicans have criticized Hagel's views of Israel and Middle East policy, Kerry said the former Nebraska Republican senator "will be a strong Secretary of Defense."

Kerry appears to have a much smoother path to Obama's Cabinet.

Current Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in formally introducing Kerry to the committee, said he has "a record of leadership and service that is exemplary."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also introducing Kerry, also praised his Senate colleague. McCain discussed their shared experience as Vietnam veterans, their work on a committee to investigate the possibility of missing POWs, and their joint support for U.S. recognition of Vietnam's government. McCain also predicted Kerry's confirmation.

Not that Kerry needed an introduction: The three-decade senator has been a member of the Foreign Relations Committee throughout his tenure, the last four as chairman.

The Kerry hearing comes a day after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee grilled Clinton over the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Kerry will likely be asked questions about security at U.S. embassies.

Other possible questions: Kerry's past outreach to Syria President Bashar al-Assad, before his crackdown on protesters, the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, relations between Israelis and Palestinians, fallout from the Arab Spring, and U.S.-Russian relations.

The son of a Foreign Service officer, Kerry is a Vietnam combat veteran who became a leading critic of that war. He won election as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in 1982 and claimed a U.S. Senate seat two years later. Kerry captured the Democratic nomination for president in 2004 but lost to incumbent President George W. Bush.

Another aspect of Kerry's political career: promoting the national career of Barack Obama.

In 2004, Kerry tapped Obama, then an Illinois legislator seeking a U.S. Senate seat, to keynote the Democratic convention. Four years later, Kerry endorsed Obama at a key point in the latter's presidential campaign, after he had lost the New Hampshire primary to Clinton.

Last year, Kerry helped Obama prepare for three debates by portraying Mitt Romney in practice sessions.

"Nothing brings two people closer together than weeks of debate prep," President Obama said last month in nominating Kerry. "John, I'm looking forward to working with you instead of debating you."

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