If the unusual bipartisan Republican response in the Senate is any guide, President Obama’s pick for a new Secretary of State, Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, will sail through confirmation hearings and a floor vote to approve his nomination with strong Republican backing. And well he should: A veteran workhorse in the Senate for 27 years, Kerry is a worthy successor to Hillary Clinton. He has earned the fast-track status he’s being accorded by leading Republican Senators.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an ulterior motive behind GOP senators’ sincere support of Kerry. They have wanted Kerry to vacate his seat as a Massachusetts senator for the nation’s top diplomatic post in order to give recently defeated Sen. Scott Brown another shot for a Senate seat.
They also wanted the political trophy of hanging the nation’s U.N. Ambassador, Susan E. Rice, out to dry as a symbol of their unrelenting political will in the wake of Obama’s November victory for a second term.
This scripted scenario merely confirms that President Obama backed away from his deep support of Rice as the new Secretary of State because he didn’t want to continue the feigned but distracting ruckus that Republican senators — including Tennessee’s Bob Corker — have made over Rice’s comments in the wake of the Sept. 11 assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans died.
Kerry had long wanted the State Department posting, and Obama’s nomination of him on Friday had been expected since Rice bowed out of contention for the job. She stepped down, however, only under unrelenting criticism for her comments — all taken from then-current State Department talking points — on the Sunday talk shows following the Benghazi attack.
The hounding she has taken over those remarks was wholly unmerited, a new State Department report shows. There was no cover-up in the Benghazi matter to protect Obama or Hillary Clinton. And there had been no order for potential rescuers to “stand down.” That widely disseminated Fox News theory has now been proven wrong.
In any case, Kerry, who was defeated in the 2004 presidential election by George W. Bush, had long worked toward the job of Secretary of State, and he had filled out his resume to qualify for it. He has served since Obama’s initial election as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, and he had also taken on a series of quiet diplomatic missions for the Obama administration over the past few years.
In one, he persuaded the unpredictable Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to hold a second round of voting after he had rigged his presidential election. He also undertook a series of missions to Pakistan, a volatile but crucial U.S. ally. In one, he got Pakistani leaders, then irate over the secret U.S. mission that killed Osama bin Laden, to rescind their demand that the U.S. swear a “blood oath” to leave Pakistan’s nuclear weapons alone.
Among the more interesting aspects of Kerry’s new assignment, and Republican support for him, is the reordered view of him by the party that trashed him — “Swiftboating” was the term — when he ran against Bush. Republican-backed ads then denigrated his war record in Vietnam as a Swift board captain; mocked the Purple Heart he earned there; and portrayed him as an elitist liberal snob, never mind that he led the Vietnam Veterans Against the War in 1971 after he returned from battle.
Now they see him, correctly, as an effective, hard-working, well-qualified nominee for Secretary of State. Though their turnaround is telling, that’s how he should be judged.