Kerry will step into the job after a cloud of controversy followed UN Ambassador Susan Rice when she was described as the front runner for the State job—only to be hounded by critics such as Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham for her misleading statements about the Benghazi terrorist attack on Sept. 11, forcing her to withdraw her name.
Kerry, who has been in the Senate for nearly 30 years, is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has been deployed by President Obama to help solve intractable foreign relations conflicts across the globe, such as in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Russia.
Born in Denver, Kerry, 69, spent much of his childhood abroad, including at a Swiss boarding school, before graduating from Yale in 1966 and serving in Vietnam, where he was a gunboat officer on the Mekong Delta, earning the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. Kerry in 1995 married Teresa Heinz, the widow of former Pennsylvania Senator H. John Heinz, heir to the Heinz ketchup fortune. Though Kerry was already independently wealthy, his wife according to some estimates is worth close to a billion dollars. During his 2004 campaign, Kerry was teased and ridiculed for his attempts to downplay his vast wealth—Kerry and his wife reportedly own a $7 million townhouse in Boston, a $9 million ocean-front home on Nantucket, a $5 million ski retreat in Idaho, a $4 million estate in Pennsylvania, and a $5 million home in Georgetown. His wife Teresa, 74, who was born in Mozambique, speaks fluent English, Spanish, French, Italian and her native Portuguese.
Kerry is considered a popular senator among Democrats and Republicans alike and will easily be confirmed. According to published reports, friends say Kerry had grown disillusioned with the partisanship in the Senate and was eager to leave to take over State.
When he made his announcement at the White House, the president said Kerry had “played a central role in every major foreign policy debate” for nearly three decades.
“He is not going to need a lot of on the job training,” Obama said, pointing to Kerry’s many connections to world leaders. Obama called him a “great friend”—indeed Kerry helped launched Obama’s career by choosing him to give the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention—and the two grew even closer when Kerry played the role of Mitt Romney during Obama’s debate prep this year.
“Nothing brings two people together better than weeks of debate prep,” the president joked at the announcement.
Clinton, who will step down in January, issued a statement calling Kerry “an excellent choice.”
“John Kerry has been tested—in war, in government, and in diplomacy,” she said. “Time and again, he has proven his mettle.”
“And now, he is working closely with me and my team to learn the lessons of the tragedy in Benghazi, further protect our people and posts, and implement every single one of the Accountability Review Board’s recommendations,” she said, referring to the killings of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans in Benghazi in September.
“There are very few people with greater experience over a longer period of time,” said Nicholas Burns, a former career ambassador who has served every secretary of state since Warren Christopher, and was most recently undersecretary for political affairs under Condoleezza Rice. “He would be a very, very impressive choice.”
“You really need someone who is a renaissance person with a tremendous range of skill, both political and substantive, with a deep reservoir of knowledge,” Burns said in an interview with CNN. “You need someone who can drill several layers deep on foreign policy issues.”
Aaron David Miller, Middle East expert at the Wilson Center, said Kerry had been preparing for the job his entire life.