John F. Kerry

Secretary of State (since 2013); U.S. Senator, D-Mass. (1985-2013)

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Why He Matters

Sen. John Kerry has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as secretary of state for President Obama’s second term. The nation’s new top diplomat will take over at the State Department on Feb. 1.

Kerry made his political debut as a Vietnam War veteran turned anti-war activist at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in 1971. Now, he is the chairman of that panel, a position he long coveted.

The five-term Senator and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee is known for his investigations of drug traffickers and Americans POWs in Vietnam and diplomatic efforts rather than his legislative victories (according to factcheck.org, when he was running for president in 2004, he had only sponsored 11 bills). During his long political career, he has cultivated a particular expertise in national security and foreign policy.

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Kerry: Steps embraced to ease tensions in Ukraine

Secretary of State John Kerry says diplomats from Russia, the United States, the European Union and Ukraine have agreed on a series of steps aimed at de-escalating violence in strife-ridden Ukraine.


Kerry, Biden unveil World Cup trophy in D.C.

Unveiling the trophy before its delivery to Brazil, Secretary of State Kerry praised the value of sport while Vice President Biden prayed for the trophy’s return after the tournament.


Rice: Obama disgusted by anti-Semitic leaflets

President Barack Obama’s national security adviser says anti-Semitic leaflets distributed in Ukraine were “utterly sickening” and that Obama has bluntly expressed his disgust.


Kerry expresses concern over attacks in Ukraine

Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed strong concern that attacks by armed militants in eastern Ukraine have been orchestrated and synchronized, and are similar to previous attacks in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

Kerry pouts

John Kerry’s feelings are hurt.


At a Glance

  • Career History: Democratic nominee for President (2004); U.S. Senator (since 1984); Lieutenant governor, Mass. (1983 to 1985)
  • Birthday: Dec. 11, 1943
  • Hometown: Denver, Colo.
  • Alma Mater: Yale University, B.A., 1966; Boston College, J.D.,1976
  • Spouse: Teresa Heinz
  • Religion: Roman Catholic
  • DC Office: 304 Russell Building; 202-224-274

Path to Power

Kerry was born in Denver, Colo., but he was raised all over the world. His father, a career Foreign Service officer, moved often with his family. Kerry said watching his father in action taught him the value of diplomacy.

He earned his undergraduate degree from Yale University in 1966 and then enlisted in the Navy. He was sent immediately to Vietnam, where he served as a swift boat captain. While critics have charged he exaggerated his war exploits, Kerry maintains that he was in danger. He recounts that on one mission, "as I bent down to grab another gun, a stinging piece of heat socked into my arm and just seemed to burn like hell. By this time one of the sailors had started the engine and we ran by the beach strafing it. Then it was quiet." He eventually earned a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.

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The Issues

Kerry sees diplomacy as the single most effective means of restoring safety and prosperity to America. "We need to engage more directly and more respectfully with Islam," he told the New York Times . "And that's all about diplomacy."

He believes that the national security challenges of the next century will not be between countries. Instead they will be between organized governments and non-state actors. These crises, he writes in the Huffington Post , will require alliances between nations. "Today the very definition of national security is being rewritten to include threats that know no borders: global terror, global AIDS--lately--global finance," he writes.

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The Network

Biden was Kerry's closest friend in the Senate. He is also close to fellow Vietnam vet and ex-Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), the second-in-command on the Foreign Relations committee.

Kerry has also worked closely with McCain on several occasions. The two worked together to prove that there were probably no more living American captives in Vietnam in 1994, and have partnered on several pieces of legislation since. Kerry even flirted with inviting McCain to be his vice presidential candidate in 2004, though McCain tells a different story.

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Additional Resources

  1. "John Kerry in the Senate," Boston Globe, Sept. 10, 2008
  2. Kerry, John and Brown, Hank, "The BCCI Affair," A Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations United States Senate, Dec. 1992
  3. Kerry, John, "The Road Ahead," Huffington Post, Dec. 4, 2008
  4. Brinkley, Douglass, "John Kerry's first purple heart," Salon.com
  5. Bender, Bryan, "Kerry Poised to Cap Long Journey," Boston Globe, Nov. 20, 2008
  6. Almanac of American Politics, 2008 edition
  7. Stand With Doctor Dean web site
  8. Bai, Matt, "Kerry's Undeclared War," New York Times magazine, Oct. 10, 2004
  9. Bumiller, Elizabeth, "Two McCain Moments, Barely Mentioned," New York Times, March 24, 2008
  10. Rozen, Laura, "Kerry on Afghanistan," Politico, Oct. 27, 2009
  11. Swift Boat Veterans for Truth Website
  12. Democracy Now Website
  13. Factcheck.org
  14. Bedard, Paul, "John Kerry: the New Comeback Kid," U.S. News and World Report, June 11, 2007
  15. Bender, Bryan, "Kerry Poised to Cap Long Journey," Boston Globe, Nov. 20, 2008
  16. Cappiello, Dina, The Washington Post, "Senate Democrats Advance Climate Bill without GOP," November 5, 2009
  17. Zeleny, Jeff, "Endorsing Obama, Kerry Calls Him a Leader of 'Wisdom, Instinct, and Vision," New York Times, Jan. 11, 2008
  18. Samuelsohn, Darren. "Climate: Senators prepare for autumn battles on emissions limits, allocations, offsets," E&E Daily, October 1, 2009.
  19. Bill Text and other information, Kerry Senate web site
  20. "Biden, Four Other Senators, to visit Southeast Asia," Associated Press, Jan. 6, 2008
  21. Washington Post Votes Database
  22. CQ's Politics in America, 2008
  23. "Pursue Renewable Energy Policy Now; Sen. John Kerry: 'We need profound and dramatic change,'" Design News, Dec. 8, 2008
  24. Rogers, David "Hillary Clinton puts John Kerry in Afghanistan," Politico, Oct. 22, 2009