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Report: John Kerry to Be Named Secretary of State

Se. John Kerry (D-MA)

Former Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry has been chosen to serve as Secretary of State, according to a Chicago Sun-Times columnist who heard it from an unidentified White House source.

This doesn’t exactly come from left field. Kerry, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was rumored to be on the short list for the job, along with UN Ambassador Susan Rice. Rice took herself out of the running this week. Kerry gave Obama arguably the biggest opportunity of his political life – the chance to address the Democratic National Convention as keynote speaker in 2004, during his nominating convention. Kerry also supported Obama over Hillary Clinton in 2008. If loyalty gets rewarded at all, Kerry proved himself plenty loyal for the job. And his tenure on Foreign Relations and accessibility to diplomatic situations – he helped resolve several snafus in Afghanistan over the past few years – shows him to at least fulfill the job requirements at State. He has also traveled to Pakistan and Sudan on unofficial diplomatic trips for the Administration during this past term. He’s basically been Secretary of State-in-waiting.

Above all, Kerry is a mainline Democrat on foreign affairs issues. He voted to go to war in Iraq and then turned against the war. He supported the mission in Afghanistan for several years. He has not been a vocal opponent whatsoever to the new American ways of war. He’s an establishment figure, and I don’t expect him to really deviate from that in the position, should he get confirmed, which seems like a virtual certainty. I don’t even know that he’ll hold much policy power in an Obama White House on foreign policy issues; if Susan Rice gets some executive branch slot like national security advisor, she would arguably hold more influence.

The political fallout from Kerry’s nomination would be a special election to replace him for the Massachusetts Senate seat, with Republican Scott Brown waiting in the wings. I wouldn’t be so sure he gets that chance. In 2004, with Kerry running for President and Mitt Romney in office ready to grant an appointment, the Democratic legislature in Massachusetts stripped Romney of that power by passing a change to the Senate vacancy laws, putting in place a special election within 180 days of the vacancy. After Ted Kennedy died, the legislature changed the law again, allowing for a temporary appointment (Paul Kirk) so that Democrats could sustain 60 votes in the Senate, and in particular pass the health care bill, at that time. There’s no reason that the legislature, before the Kerry confirmation, couldn’t change the law again, eliminate the off-year special election, and let the appointee serve through until 2014, with an election at that time. Kerry’s term is up in 2014 anyway. And obviously, Democrats in the Massachusetts legislature aren’t embarrassed to change Senate vacancy laws purely according to circumstances.

So it’s not a sure bet that Brown would get a chance in a special election. Even if he does, this is not someone who would sneak up on voters but someone who Elizabeth Warren largely exposed through her campaign. There’s still concern about the lack of a decent candidate in the state to go up against Brown. But you cannot be sure that Brown returns to the Senate in that seat.

As for the Foreign Relations Committee, the chairmanship is likely to go to Bob Menendez. Barbara Boxer is next in line, but she would have to give up her gavel on the Environment and Public Works Committee, and she’s disinclined to do so.

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David Dayen

David Dayen