Considered a candidate for secretary of state in Obama’s first Cabinet in 2008, he was overtaken by Clinton. But he moved into the powerful committee chairmanship when Vice President Biden departed the Senate.
Kerry first burst onto the national stage in 1971 when he appeared before that same committee as a 27-year-old combat veteran to denounce the architects of the Vietnam War. Since then, he has rarely been out of the limelight.
He lost a 1972 congressional race, and spent a stint as a prosecutor before scoring his first electoral victory as Massachusetts lieutenant governor under Michael Dukakis in 1982. Two years later, he won his Senate seat.
In the late 1980s, Kerry used his position as a foreign relations subcommittee chairman to enlist staff investigators to look for links between the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan “contras” and drug smuggling. An investigation of money laundering involving Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega and the Pakistan-based Bank of Credit and Commerce International, while derided by many of his colleagues at the time, led to BCCI’s collapse in 1991. Many other investigations followed over the years, including more recent inquiries into U.S. policy in Afghanistan.
Kerry has frequently referred to his decorated Vietnam service as a “swift boat” officer patrolling the waters of the Mekong Delta. “The question of being ready and certain is important to many of us of the Vietnam generation,” he said in opposing the first Persian Gulf War in 1991. “We come to this debate with a measure of distrust, with some skepticism, with a searing commitment to ask honest questions and with a resolve to get satisfactory answers so that we are not misled again.”
Although Kerry voted in favor of the second war against Iraq in 2003, he later opposed it, leading to flip-flop allegations during his presidential campaign.
He has almost always ended up in close proximity to Obama’s foreign policy positions, although not always at the same moment. Kerry pushed for establishing a no-fly zone in Libya, and called for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down from power before Obama took those positions.
Even when relations with countries such as Egypt and Pakistan have gone through difficult patches, he has been a leading voice for the use of economic assistance as a primary foreign policy tool.
In July 2011, he described expenditures on the Afghanistan war as “unsustainable,” and called for Obama to accelerate plans for U.S. troop withdrawal.
Anne Gearan, Scott Wilson and Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.