Kerry has long sought the post as America’s top diplomat. But he appeared to be Obama’s second choice after U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice. Rice withdrew her name from consideration this month because of Republican opposition based on her role as administration spokeswoman in the fatal Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya.
In a brief ceremony in the White House Roosevelt Room, Obama praised Kerry, the son of a U.S. diplomat, for his military service in Vietnam and his work decades later restoring diplomatic relations with that country, and for his long service in the Senate.
“He’s played a role in nearly every major foreign policy debate in the last 30 years,” Obama said.
Despite signals that Obama was likely to put forth nominees for two or more national security posts together, Kerry’s was the only name announced Friday. Former Republican senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who has been the most prominent name mentioned as a candidate for defense secretary, has run into bipartisan opposition over his views on Iran, Israel and gay rights.
Kerry’s widely expected selection was announced at the White House with little fanfare. Only a small pool of reporters was allowed into the Roosevelt Room for the president’s remarks. Kerry did not speak at the lectern, and after a stiff handshake, Obama put a hand on Kerry’s arm and guided him out the door.
The two men are friendly but not especially close, colleagues and friends of both men have said. Obama joked that they had had a lot of forced togetherness earlier this year, when Kerry played the part of fellow Massachusetts politician Mitt Romney during the president’s debate practice.
“Nothing brings two people closer than weeks of debate prep,” Obama cracked.
Obama praised Kerry’s globe-trotting work ethic and noted his long list of personal relationships with leaders around the world. “He’s not going to need a lot of on-the-job training,” Obama said.
At the State Department, the senator would succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has said she plans to leave at the close of Obama’s first term, although she has pledged to remain in place until a successor is confirmed.
Clinton had wanted to attend Friday’s announcement, Obama said. She remains at home under doctor’s orders following a fall and concussion more than a week ago. Obama said he had spoken to Clinton earlier Friday.
“She is in good spirits and could not be more excited” about Kerry’s selection, Obama said.
In a statement shortly after the announcement, Clinton called Kerry an uncommonly gifted and experienced public servant whose experiences in war and politics will serve him well.