Whether such a closed and complementary circle will engender tough foreign policy questions remains to be seen.
Kerry has been a generally well-liked chairman, but many of the panel’s members are less than pleased with aspects of President Obama’s foreign policy. Even Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) — who was reminded last week by Kerry’s staff that he does not yet “chair” the panel, which he will take over, but will merely “preside” over the confirmation hearing — has his differences with Obama over issues as diverse as Cuba and Iran.
McCain, who joked Tuesday that the committee would “bring back . . . waterboarding to get the truth” out of Kerry, has called Obama’s policies “feckless” and irresponsible, particularly toward Iran and Syria.
Kerry, who has chaired the panel since Vice President Biden left the Senate four years ago, has also been critical of Obama at times. Last year, he called the Afghan war “unsustainable” and said Obama should speed up the withdrawal of U.S. troops — a recommendation the administration now appears on the verge of adopting. In 2011, he called for the administration to intervene in Libya before Obama decided to do so.
He has been carefully neutral on the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, Libya, that left a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead. Kerry did not appear at Wednesday’s hearing at which the committee questioned Clinton on the subject.
Over the past four years, the senator has undertaken sensitive diplomatic missions for Obama in Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He became one of the president’s chief foreign policy surrogates during last year’s presidential race and delivered a stem-winding endorsement speech at the Democratic National Convention.
Kerry is one of the wealthiest members of the Senate, and in a Jan. 8 letter to the State Department’s legal adviser, he recused himself from any matter that might have direct influence on his financial interests.
Most of his personal wealth is in blind family trusts, as is that of his wife, the heir to the Heinz ketchup fortune. Within 90 days of his confirmation, he wrote, they would divest in a long list of companies, including energy, financial, pharmaceutical and technology interests.