Turning the farewell into a professorial lecture, he reminded senators that “relationships matter” and recounted how he and McCain, who became senators within two years of each other, came from vastly different backgrounds: Kerry won election after his post-Vietnam service was dedicated to ending the war; McCain’s life was dedicated to the military even after 51
2 years imprisoned in the “Hanoi Hilton.” They never spoke about Vietnam until a 1991 trip to Kuwait, a sleepless night in which they finally broke their silence about the war and forged a long, complicated relationship that rose and fell depending on their own presidential ambitions.
Considered stoic and out of touch during his presidential bid, Kerry wept as he tapped his desk, a historic oak fixture whose previous occupants included then-Sen. John F. Kennedy and his brother, the late Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who served as Kerry’s mentor.
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“It is what it is,” the former New York congressman said.
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“We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us,” the president said.
“From every member of the Senate, there are characteristics, passions, quirks and beliefs that bring this place alive and unite it, to make it the most extraordinary legislative body on earth,” he said, having rattled off personal traits of eight current and former colleagues without naming them. “That’s what I love about the Senate.”
The final ironic twist to his Senate career came after the November elections, as some inside President Obama’s camp pushed for Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to take over the State Department. Led by McCain, Republicans protested over her role in defending the U.S. response to the Sept. 11 attack on a Libyan consulate. Publicly, Republicans voiced support for Kerry instead, and privately, Democrats told the White House they preferred Kerry as well.
Some questioned whether Republicans just wanted a chance at winning Kerry’s seat in a special election, but most senators admitted that Kerry — after finally settling into his role as a defender of the Senate, an elder statesman chairing the Foreign Relations Committee — deserved a promotion out of the chamber.
Forty-two years after he appeared before that same committee as a veteran opposed to the war, he won approval from that panel Tuesday and confirmation from the full Senate a few hours later. Kerry, the son of a Foreign Service officer, will be sworn in as secretary of state on Friday.
“It completed a circle which I never could have imagined drawing, but one our Founders surely did,” he said.