A dozen years ago, a Democratic presidential candidate asked a relatively unknown Midwestern senator to give the keynote speech at the party’s national convention.
On Tuesday, the candidate ended up going to work for that speech maker.
As expected President Barack Obama’s nomination of U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., as the new secretary of state sailed through the Senate with 94 affirmative votes and only three nays. That came after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — the panel that Kerry had chaired for the past four years — gave him a unanimous recommendation as the nation’s top diplomat.
The only formality now is for Kerry to be sworn in, likely later this week, to take the reins of the secretary job from Hillary Clinton, another former senator who served in that capacity for Obama’s first term and who had a similar 94-2 endorsement from the Senate in 2009.
While there were three Republicans who voted against Kerry — the nominee chose to simply vote “present” — the overwhelming bipartisan support that he received from his fellow senators is something that will be noticed by foreign diplomats. While the House and Senate have been fractured along political lines for years now, in this instance other nations will know that Kerry has strong support from both sides of the aisles back home as he represents America.
Kerry is expected to make his final speech as a member of the Senate today.
The fact is that senators comprise a fairly exclusive political club. While there might be a handful of senators who would have trouble getting broad support from others in the Senate on job appointments, by and large members of the upper chamber tend to have the respect of their fellow lawmakers.
That doesn’t always extend to former members of the club. Chuck Hagel, a former U.S. senator who has been tapped by Obama to serve as secretary of defense, will face a grilling compared to Kerry. And John Brennan, who Obama has nominated as CIA director, will also be subjected to much tougher questioning.
Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., has threatened to hold up Hagel’s nomination until the Senate gets answers from current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in the Benghazi terrorist attacks. Hagel, a Republican who’s not particularly popular with Republicans these days, was already expected to face some pointed questions about his positions and previous statements on Israel, gays and Iran, but it also appears that he will have to answer assertions that he favors reductions of nuclear weapons, even if the United States reduces its arsenal unilaterally. He also supports the Global Zero international initiative to rid the world of all nuclear weapons, something Kerry said during his questioning that he does not see happening in the modern world.
In the end, Hagel will likely be approved by the Senate, but with a far closer vote and less enthusiasm than Kerry enjoyed.