Many of President Obama’s nominees have faced grillings on Capitol Hill. But Caroline Kennedy, Obama’s pick to be ambassador to Japan, was greeted today with the chamber’s equivalent of a big, wet kiss.
Senators lavished praise on her during her nomination hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Not that ambassador hearings are typically testy affairs, but this one was particularly friendly.
First up was Sen. Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who beamed as he introduced Kennedy, his constituent. He was clearly in a effusive mood, first praising the panel’s leaders for “the great job you’ve done on this committee” before launching into his ode to Kennedy.
Having run through her accomplishments as a philanthropist, author, and attorney, as well as those of her storied political family, he lauded Kennedy’s most recent coup: having swum three miles in the Hudson River for charity. “I’m not sure either of us could have accomplished this feat,” Schumer marveled to Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the committee’s chairman.
He finally wound up the lengthy tribute with a parting compliment: “Her passion to do right and do good burns so strongly within her. Thank you for the privilege. It’s truly a privilege.”
Next, fellow New York Democrat, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, took a turn at introducing the woman she called a “favorite daughter of New York,” noting that Kennedy would be the first woman to serve as ambassador to Japan.
“In her life, her work, her intelligence, and her character, Ms. Kennedy will serve as a shining example” to young women there, she said.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) might be new to the chamber, but he fit right in with his own own homage to the witness. “You are the pluperfect embodiment of someone who has dedicated her life to helping others,” he informed her.
But it wasn’t just Kennedy’s status as political rock star that ensured the kid-glove treatment, suggested Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the committee’s top Republican.
He revealed one of the secrets of confirmation hearings: that nominees who bring their children with them to the proceedings typically avoid any rough treatment. Kennedy was accompanied by a family contingent that included two of her three children, as well as her aunt, Vicky Kennedy, the widow of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).
“I doubt you’ll get much of a hard time today for a variety of reasons,” Corker said. “But having your kids here ensures that.”
Kennedy even did the favor of returning the love. When Menendez asked a stock question about whether she would keep the Senate apprised of developments on bilateral talks between the United States and Japan, she showed some already-formidable diplomatic skills.
“If confirmed, I hope to spend even more time with all of you than I have already,” she said.
And later, a nod to her uncle — and to his former colleagues: “I grew up under the tutelage of a great senator, so I have the utmost respect for the position.”