Kerry’s consolation prize?

Al Kamen
Columnist November 13, 2012

We’re hearing that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) was, let’s say, a bit surprised at news that President Obama was thinking about asking him if he wanted to be secretary of defense, instead of secretary of state.

Worse yet, the buzz was that Susan Rice, a former assistant secretary of state and now ambassador to the United Nations, was said to be the odds-on favorite for that fine seventh-floor office at Foggy Bottom that Kerry set his sights on.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Best we can tell, Kerry, though a Vietnam War veteran, has hardly expressed any interest in the Pentagon job and, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the past four years and a senator for 28 years, really, really wants State.

But, as we’ve noted, Obama really, really wants to put Rice at the State Department. And names are already being floated for a replacement for Rice at the United Nations.

And it would be very hard to turn down the Pentagon job.

So, let’s see. Kerry leaves the Hill and outgoing Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) most likely will be happy at the possibility — or likelihood — of being incoming Sen. Scott Brown after an election within a couple of months or so. He’d run for Kerry’s seat. (Unless he runs for governor.)

Meanwhile, incoming Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) would be the senior senator from Massachusetts “on Day One.”

If Kerry does decide to go for the Pentagon post, the confirmation hearing could be interesting. Would he be asked, for instance, about his well-known tossing of his Vietnam medals?

And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) indicated Sunday that he would oppose a Rice nomination to be secretary of state. Graham, interviewed on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” said he was “not going to promote somebody who I think has misled the country” over the Benghazi killing of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens “or is either incompetent. That’s my view of Susan Rice. There are other people out there.”

Graham said he thought “Susan Rice would have an incredibly difficult time getting through the Senate. I would not vote for her unless there’s a tremendous opening up of information explaining herself in a way she has not yet done.”

But Graham stopped short of saying he would put a hold on or filibuster the nomination.

Speculators are beginning to muse about who would replace Rice at the United Nations, our colleague Colum Lynch reported last week.

The White House has begun considering at least two new candidates for the top U.N. job, including Samantha Power , who oversees U.N. policy at the White House, and Eileen Donahoe , the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council, according to a source close to the Obama administration.

Background Check: Gil Kerlikowske

As America’s top drug cop, Gil Kerlikowske has a tough-guy image to maintain. He’s been chief of police in Seattle and police commissioner in Buffalo, and he now oversees the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which is tasked with stamping out illegal drug use and trafficking.

But it sounds as though Kerlikowske, a Florida native named drug czar in 2009, has a secret softer side. He chats with the Loop about his love of musical theater (including a time he actually took to the stage himself) and his affection for “Barney Miller.”

Which cabinet secretary would you most like to hang out with, and what would you do?

Janet Napolitano — I’d take some tennis lessons from her.

What’s your favorite non-work-related Web site/app/magazine?

National Geographic.

Fill in the blank: People would be surprised to know that I _____.

Was in “Singin’ in the Rain” at the Fifth Avenue Theater in Seattle when I was police chief.

What’s your dream job?

Guest host of “Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!”

What motivated you to go into public service?

I was inspired by JFK.

Favorite TV show?

It’s old, but clearly the most realistic police show, “Barney Miller.”

Which character from that show do you most identify with?

Capt. Miller, who was busy dealing with bureaucracy and the personalities of his detectives.

What subject, other than your work, do you know the most about?

American musical theater.

What’s the best job you ever had?

Police officer, because you get direct satisfaction from helping someone.

Fill in the blank: I’m scared of _____.

Nothing. It is a violation of the unwritten police code of conduct to admit to being afraid!

What’s one word you wish people would use to describe you?

Thoughtful.

You can draft one person in the private sector to come work for the federal government. Who would it be, and what would you have them do?

The actor Matthew Perry, who has been an incredible spokesperson about the dangers of prescription drugs.

Background Check is a Loop feature in which we ask various government types about their lives on and off the clock. Please send suggestions for future subjects to intheloop@washpost.com.

Pelosi’s crossroads

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) is holding a news conference Wednesday morning to announce whether she will leave her post after a decade as the Democrats’ leader in the House.

The announcement comes amid mounting speculation that Pelosi, 72, may be prepared to step down after the party’s less-than-inspiring efforts in the last two elections. The D’s lost 63 seats in 2010 and only regained a half-dozen or so seats in last week’s election.

But, as we reported last month, the initial speculation on her future was sparked by her decision to move the leadership elections, usually held in the week after an election, to the week after Thanksgiving.

Stay tuned. News conference is scheduled for 10 a.m., our colleague Paul Kane reports.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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