Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry is the primary beneficiary of Susan Rice’s withdrawal from consideration as Secretary of State — and a nomination could jeopardize his seat and possibly give the GOP one more voice in the Senate, observers say.
Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a longtime confidante of President Barack Obama, withdrew her name from consideration as secretary of state on Thursday in the face of what promised to be a difficult Senate confirmation battle.
Rice's withdrawal marked the first political defeat for President Barack Obama as he prepares for his second term.
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Rice has drawn heavy fire from Republicans for early remarks she made after the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Libya, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The move led many on Capitol Hill to immediately speculate that Kerry, a Vietnam Navy veteran, would be nominated by the president. He is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has been an unofficial Obama emissary to world hotspots throughout Africa and the Middle East.
Kerry lost the White House in 2004 to Republican George W. Bush.
“The biggest reason not to appoint Kerry is purely political,” Ewen MacAskill, a Washington-based blogger for The Guardian, said on Thursday. “The Democrats were both embarrassed and demoralized when they lost a Senate seat in their stronghold of Massachusetts to Republican Scott Brown after the death of Ted Kennedy.
“Brown lost to Elizabeth Warren last month, but he remains a strong candidate,” MacAskill continued. “If Kerry takes the Secretary of State job, that will mean another special election in Massachusetts — and the risk of another Democratic loss.”
Warren, a Harvard Law School professor in her first run for office, defeated Brown in a heated race that — at nearly $78 million — was the costliest U.S. Senate contest in the country in 2012, according to campaign finance reports.
Brown, an attorney who has served in both chambers of the Massachusetts state house, won Kennedy’s seat in a special election in 2010 following the longtime senator’s death the previous summer.
"As I've said many times before, victory and defeat is temporary," Brown told USA Today on Wednesday. "Depending on what happens, and where we go, all of us, we may obviously meet again, but I'm looking forward to continuing on with those friendships, and with continuing on working with my staff."
According to finance reports, Warren spent about $40.5 million in the race, while Brown’s campaign put out more than $37 million.
Should Kerry be confirmed as Secretary of State, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick would appoint an interim senator to serve until a special election could be held. The election is expected to draw no shortage of candidates, including Brown.
The special election also could give Republicans an additional Senate seat. Democrats currently control the Senate, 53 to 45, with 2 Independents. Democrats would still remain in the majority, but any GOP victory in Massachusetts would add to another voice to the minority party.
For his part, Kerry offered his own praise, and empathy, to Rice on Thursday.
“I’ve defended her publicly and wouldn’t hesitate to do so again because I know her character and I know her commitment,” he said in a statement. “She’s an extraordinarily capable and dedicated public servant. Today’s announcement doesn’t change any of that.”
The Kerry statement then added: “As someone who has weathered my share of political attacks and understands on a personal level just how difficult politics can be, I’ve felt for her throughout these last difficult weeks, but I also know that she will continue to serve with great passion and distinction.”
It is this experience and pragmatism that led two top GOP Senate aides to predict on Thursday that Kerry would easily be confirmed as the nation’s top diplomat.
"Kerry would sail through as Secretary of State, since so many senators have already said that he has the right judgment and experience for that position," one aide told the Washington Examiner.
Former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam veteran from Nebraska, would also make the grade as Defense Secretary, succeeding the outgoing Leon Panetta, the aide said.
"I think both of them will be questioned vigorously but confirmed," the aide told the Examiner.
Meanwhile, the other aide said: “I think Kerry gets through fine. We won by forcing Rice out. No one liked her."
The confirmation process goes through the Foreign Affairs Committee, which Kerry now heads.
“Kerry is well placed – he knows all the members well, and has spent lots of time with them round the world, with the shared camaraderie of having been in the world's trouble spots together,” said MacAskill, The Guardian’s blogger.
And the GOP senators who were most hostile to Rice — John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and, later, Susan Collins of Maine — all have said they would welcome Kerry as Secretary of State.
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McCain has applied to serve on the committee when the new term begins next month. He had sought the post specifically to oppose any possible Rice nomination. He and Kerry have worked together on many bipartisan measures over the years.
“I think John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues,” Collins said last month after Rice met with her and the other GOP critics in trying to save her nomination.
The Boston Globe and Boston.com also contributed to this report.
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