Kerry did not speak at the lectern, but he exited with Obama after a handshake.
‘An incredible team player’
A second Obama administration official described Kerry as “an incredible team player” in support of the president’s foreign policy the past four years. “He’s taken on a whole bunch of assignments, done them discretely and done them in full coordination with us.”
At home, Kerry also served as point man for passage of the nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia that Obama signed last year, and he has been a consistently strong voice for U.S. and international action on climate change.
In the months since Clinton announced she would not serve a second term, Kerry has been particularly careful to allow little daylight to emerge between his own views and those of the administration. But he is known to be frustrated with what he sees as the need for more assertive U.S. leadership in the world.
He is expected to push for more aggressive, direct U.S. involvement on the interconnected challenges of Iran’s nuclear program, upheavals in Syria, Egypt and other Arab Spring countries, and dim prospects for an Arab-Israeli peace.
If confirmed, Kerry would take over a department stretched by short budgets and rising security costs overseas, and a diplomatic corps still reeling from the death of J. Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, during the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
A former top State Department official said that “good internal management of the department” could be a challenge for Kerry. “It’s very different running a Senate staff and running a big agency,” he said. “Senators have unique challenges, but they’re used to a world that revolves around them, and they have a staff, not a team.”
Clinton, who has been out sick for the past two weeks and did not appear at the ceremony, released a statement calling Kerry an uncommonly gifted and experienced public servant.
“He has forged strong relationships with leaders around the world,” Clinton said. “As I have learned, being able to talk candidly as someone who has won elections and also lost them is an enormous asset when engaging with emerging or fragile democracies.”
A tough race in 2004
Kerry’s rise in the Senate took an ultimately painful detour in the grueling 2004 presidential race that gave George W. Bush a second term. After nursing the wounds of a campaign in which Republicans called him an untrustworthy flip-flopper and fellow Democrats bemoaned his image as an aloof patrician, Kerry renewed his focus on international affairs.