President Obama will nominate John F. Kerry, the five-term senator from Massachusetts, to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of State, White House sources confirmed, choosing a longtime political ally who shares much of his foreign policy worldview and is likely to sail through confirmation hearings.
Obama settled on the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee shortly after the wrenching withdrawal of Susan Rice, his envoy to the United Nations, as the top candidate for the post. He delayed the announcement to avoid interfering with national mourning over the mass slaying at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Kerry, 69, has chaired the Senate Foreign Relatons Committee since 2009. His selection gives the White House a veteran foreign policy hand who has demonstrated his willingness to work with Obama’s inner circle of advisors over the last four years.
The Cabinet position will give Kerry a decorated Vietnam veteran who later helped lead veterans opposed to the war, a career-capping assignment that he has long sought.
But it also risks the loss of what has been a reliable Democratic seat in the Senate. Democrats control the Senate by a 55-45 margin but face midterm elections in two years that could sharply narrow those numbers.
Scott Brown, a Republican who lost his Senate seat in last month’s election but remains popular in the commonwealth, could run again in a special election next year. Several Democrats have indicated interest, including Edward Kennedy Jr., son of the late senator.
Rice withdrew her name from consideration on Dec. 15 after a tenacious campaign by Republicans who said her public comments misled the country after armed militants killed four Americans at the the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, in September.
Kerry was the only other leading candidate for the post, and his nomination is expected to easily win Senate approval. Several GOP lawmakers who led the opposition to Rice, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), urged Obama to choose Kerry instead.
White House officials concede they owe a special obligation to Kerry for all he has done for Obama in politics and diplomacy. In 2004, when Kerry was running for president, he chose Obama to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, providing the obscure state senator from Illinois an invaluable introduction to American voters.
Republican hawks could raise questions about Kerry’s resistance to U.S. military intervention abroad in some conflicts. And a group of Vietnam “swift boat” veterans who opposed his presidential campaign have vowed to voice their objections again.
Kerry has shared Obama’s interest in trying to talk without preconditions to adversary regimes, and he shares Obama’s desire to shift the U.S. military from the grueling ground wars of the last decade to a “light footprint” abroad.
Kerry “would much rather solve problems by negotiations and diplomacy than by war,” said Jonah Blank, a former Kerry aide and South Asia specialist. “He’s seen war: He knows it ain’t pretty, and very often it doesn’t work.”
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