Shifting Within Party To Gain His Footing
The committee had six Republican and six Democratic members. Kerry's co-chairman, then-Sen. Robert C. Smith (R-N.H.), was an outspoken believer of dark conspiracy theories that U.S. servicemen remained alive in prisons in Laos and the government knew it.
"I would have bet my house at any point that [Kerry] could've never gotten all 12 members to agree on any conclusion," said Mark Salter, chief of staff to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). "He has great courtroom skills, a way of developing a line of argument that, while it might not have satisfied people, it kept them moving forward."
Kerry and Smith traveled to Vietnam and searched prisons and catacombs but found no Americans. They went to Moscow to inspect records purporting to show the fate of hundreds of missing men. Families mobbed the hearings, some berating McCain, a former POW, as a Manchurian candidate for dismissing conspiracy theories. McCain said at those times Kerry put a hand on his arm and calmed him.
"He has a capacity for patience -- certainly he showed almost inexhaustible patience, far more patience than I have," McCain said. "It's a vital ingredient in getting to result. I acquired profound appreciation for his excellent work on a terribly difficult, emotional issue. That's what causes people to be friends."
Kerry himself oversaw the final rewrite of the 1,223-page report, negotiating words and phrases for more than a week, ultimately arriving at the unanimous conclusion that "there is, at this time, no compelling evidence that proves that any American remains alive in captivity in Southeast Asia." The last objections came from a staffer for then-Sen. Hank Brown (R-Colo.). "It was 1 a.m. and people were leaving, but John didn't leave. He was sitting there, reasoning with him," recalled Frances Zwenig, the panel's chief of staff.
Kerry and McCain spent the next two years pressing for normalization of relations with the communist country they had fought. With Kerry on one side and McCain on the other, President Clinton formally recognized the communist government of Vietnam in 1995.
Senate Democratic leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.), who served on the panel, said it marked a turning point in perceptions of Kerry in the Senate. "Until that point, many people had never seen him lead," Daschle said.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), a Kerry champion, invokes Kerry's long Vietnam journey when asked what he learned from observing him for 30 years. "I knew him when he had fought in the war, when he fought against the war, and then I saw him fight for reconciliation," Kennedy said. "There was no political plus there. That was inner determination and his willingness to complete the job he started."
Reconciliation with Vietnam also marked a turning part for Kerry personally. "This changes Kerry's political style," said Thomas J. Vallely, his friend since the antiwar movement who directs the Vietnam program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "He's no longer a 24-year-old Swift boat commander throwing his ribbons away to protest the war. He's a consensus builder who works with people who were against him, and that's what ends the war."
No Longer Cash Poor
The larger transformation for Kerry that year was his marriage to Teresa Heinz, widow of the late senator H. John Heinz III (R-Pa.) and heiress to a food products fortune worth at least $500 million. Divorced since 1988 from Julia Thorne -- and frequently sighted with celebrity dates -- Kerry had been cash-poor for years, bunking at times with friends, family, staffers and a lobbyist-friend as he shuttled between Washington and Boston, where he spent weekends with daughters Alex and Vanessa.
Now with his wife's five homes and vast wealth -- which would figure significantly in his 1996 reelection and his presidential campaign -- Kerry assumed a princely lifestyle and a more formidable political presence in Massachusetts and nationally.
The marriage coincided with the end of Kerry's life as an investigator, as the Democrats lost their Senate majority in 1994 and as Kerry lost his subcommittee. With a Democratic president, far from trying to expose the dark side of U.S. foreign policy, Kerry became a partner in shaping policy as a member of the Senate leadership, recruited by Daschle, the Democrats' new leader and Kerry admirer. Kerry, who voted in 1991 against authorizing the Persian Gulf War, now helped draft resolutions for the use of U.S. force for humanitarian missions in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Kerry moved to make a mark on domestic issues such as education, health and the problems of cities, well aware, according to several aides, that he needed those credentials to run for president. But without a seat on relevant committees, he left only modest imprints; a Kerry aide on these issues at one point counted 25 counterparts working the same subject matter on Kennedy's committee and office staffs.
With Teresa Heinz Kerry's assent, their Georgetown home became a salon of sorts, a scene of working dinners for senators of both parties and idea people. "It's such an exciting time to convene great minds and great people to think, 'How are we going to govern ourselves on this little planet in a way that we're all healthier?' " said Teresa Heinz Kerry, who said she often poses the question as head of her late husband's philanthropies.
The lifestyle nurtured Kerry's budding bipartisanship. At one dinner, the Kerrys hosted the South African ambassador, AIDS experts, foundation leaders and Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to communicate U.S. concern about South African President Thabo Mbeki's claim that HIV did not cause AIDS. Kerry worked for 18 months with Frist, who later became Senate Republican leader, crafting legislation that dramatically increased U.S. aid to fight global AIDS, the biggest expansion until President Bush's recent initiative.
With the Senate now in Republican hands, Kerry also partnered with Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) to pass national fisheries protection legislation, Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) on coastal zone protection, Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) on school accountability, Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) on early childhood development and small business, and McCain on tobacco, climate change, fuel economy and more.
"He is obviously motivated by a desire to restore some kind of bipartisanship that is almost totally absent from the way we do business up here now," McCain said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
In probing drug cartels in the Americas and the role of Panama under dictator Manuel Noriega, Sen. John F. Kerry shows photos of Panamanian officials meeting with Cuba's communist leader, Fidel Castro.
(Cliff Owen -- UPI Photo)