During the Wednesday hearing with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. Menendez’s plaque read “Chairman.” (Jason Reed/Reuters)

As the next Secretary of State, Sen. John Kerry will likely have to deal with a few regime changes across the globe.

For now, he’s got to deal with a peaceful transition a little closer to home. His “friend from New Jersey,” in Senate parlance, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), is taking over the gavel of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from him. The changeover’s been just a little awkward, since Menendez is playing the part of chairman though his role isn’t yet official — and to make things even weirder, he’s overseeing hearings on Kerry’s nomination.

The best example of the odd situation? On Wednesday, Menendez presided over the high-profile hearing in which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified about the attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya.

The key word there is “presided.” He can’t actually “chair” the committee, since Kerry is still the chairman. However, the plaque in front of him read “Mr. Menendez” and below that, “Chairman.”

The next day, the committee held another notable hearing, this one on Kerry’s nomination to replace Clinton. For this session, Menendez sat behind a different plaque, this one reading simply, “Mr. Menendez.”

A Menendez spokeswoman said the plaque reading “Chairman” had been placed on the dais by a staffer who handles the setup of the committee room, and that people only realized the error in semantics afterward.

She said the next day, it was just switched for one with his proper title.

Looks like “Mr. Menendez” will have to wait just a little while longer to get the big title. The committee is expected to vote on an organization plan this week, and the full Senate is likely to pass that soon thereafter.

In the meantime, just don’t call him late for dinner.