Politics

November 28, 2012

Kerry stays quiet as Cabinet speculation swirls

The Associated Press

Sen. John Kerry is angling to be the nation's top diplomat by being, well, diplomatic.

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This Nov. 13, 2012 file photo shows Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. pursued by reporters as he arrives for a closed-door meetin on Capitol Hill in Washington. Kerry is angling for the nation’s top diplomatic job by being diplomatic. He's asking supporters not to overtly lobby on his behalf, a strategy reflecting both his disdain for Washington’s personnel politics and a recognition that if Obama taps Rice instead, Kerry will have to shepherd her difficult nomination through the Senate committee he runs. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

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The longtime Democratic lawmaker from Massachusetts has largely stayed quiet while President Barack Obama considers him for the next secretary of state. Kerry has asked his supporters to avoid overt lobbying of the White House on his behalf. And he's defended his chief rival for the post, Susan Rice, amid Republican criticism of her initial explanation of the attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

Kerry's strategy reflects what people close to the senator say is his disdain for some aspects of Washington's personnel politics. But it also underscores his awkward role in the process. If Obama taps Rice for the job Kerry covets, the senator would have to shepherd her difficult nomination through the foreign relations committee he chairs.

White House officials say Obama is still mulling over his pick to replace outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, though a decision is expected soon. Rice, who has a close relationship with the president, is widely viewed as the favorite. But Kerry's stock may be rising as GOP lawmakers threaten to hold up Rice's confirmation until they're satisfied with her answers about the early public statements about the Benghazi attack.

But don't expect Kerry or his allies to make his case to Obama as the president nears a decision, as is standard practice for people who are on a short list for a new job. People close to the senator say he finds backroom lobbying for top jobs irritating and counterproductive. That view, they say, is shaped from his experience on both sides of the process: as a contender for previous high-level jobs and as the one making the decision in 2004, when he tapped John Edwards as his running mate during his presidential bid.

"John Kerry is very seasoned at how personnel decisions get made by chief executives," said Michael Meehan, a former Kerry aide. "He wouldn't be out there advising anybody on how to make this decision."

While Rice has several high-level advocates in the White House, particularly among advisers who have been with Obama since his 2008 campaign, Kerry has his fans within the administration as well. He backed Obama early in his 2008 presidential run and was under consideration to be his first secretary of state. More recently, Kerry spent months helping Obama with his campaign debate preparations, playing the role of Republican nominee Mitt Romney in practice sessions.

White House aides say Obama sees Kerry as a team player, a quality the president values in making personnel decisions. If Obama passes over Kerry for the State Department post, there has been speculation the president could try to find another role for him in the administration, possibly as defense secretary, though Kerry aides say he's not interested.

Perhaps Kerry's greatest advantage for the job is the likelihood that he would be easily confirmed by his Senate colleagues.

"John Kerry came within a whisker of being president of the United States; I think that works in his favor," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Tuesday on Fox News. "But I'd love to hear him make his case. I don't have anything in his background like this tragedy in Benghazi that would make me really want to carefully examine the whole situation."

Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine, echoed McCain's comments Wednesday after meeting privately with Rice, the current U.N. ambassador.

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