The Washington Post

Mr. Menendez: A chairman-in-waiting

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) (L) congratulates Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) after his confirmation hearing to become the next Secretary of State in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill January 24, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

As the next secretary of state, John Kerry will probably have to deal with a few regime changes around the globe.

For now, the senator from Massachusetts must 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 has been just a little awkward, with Menendez playing the part of chairman though his role is not yet official. To make things even weirder, he’s overseeing hearings on Kerry’s nomination.

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

The best example of the odd situation? On Wednesday, Menendez presided over the high-profile hearing in which Secretary of State Hillary Rodham 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. But 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 realized the error only afterward.

Looks as though “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.

Also, no decent delis

There aren’t a whole lot of cushy jobs to be found in Afghanistan.

And a recent job posting from the State Department illustrates just how difficult some gigs there are. State is looking for a senior adviser at the Justice Center in Parwan tasked with the unenviable job of counseling Afghan officials on how to set up a modern justice system and prosecute suspects being held at the Parwan slammer.

Tough enough, but then it says only those with “above average resistance to fatigue and physical hardships” need apply. Turns outyou’ll be operating in some downright tough conditions.

There’s lots of walking on “irregular dirt or stone surfaces, on both hilly and flat terrain.” Many of the sites are remote and inaccessible. And there’s some travel on helicopters or small aircraft designed for hauling cargo — so anyone used to first-class or even coach might find themselves more than a tad uncomfortable.

And for those still reading, there’s this: “Climate conditions are also often a factor. Work is often done in extremes of cold and heat, in dusty, windy and polluted environments, and frequently outdoors.”

Sure puts the complaints from many a cubicle dweller — the office thermostat is set too low, say, or the coffee’s lousy — in perspective.

Out of Energy

The chatter for weeks had it that Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter looked to be on the inside track for energy secretary in the second Obama administration.

But it seems President Obama had other ideas. Obama called Carter after nominating former senator Chuck Hagel earlier this month to be defense secretary and asked Carter to stay on in his Pentagon job.

‘‘I agreed to do that, and I’m enthusiastic about doing that,’’ Carter told a small group of reporters, the Associated Press reported Friday afternoon, saying that he thought Hagel would do well running the Pentagon.

Others who have been mentioned for the Energy Department job include former senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, who co-chairs a government relations operation at a D.C. law firm; former Colorado governor Bill Ritter ; and, more recently, former Washington governor Chris Gregoire , who’s also been mentioned as a candidate for other Cabinet slots, including interior secretary.

Speaking of tycoons

Mitt Romney didn’t speak at the Alfalfa Club on Saturday night, so he couldn’t bring down the house the way former secretary of state Henry Kissinger did.

Still, he got a fine hand from the lunch crowd Friday at the JW Marriott with a not-all-that-old joke. The lunch, to thank 150 or so mega-donors and including various members of Congress and pals, was put on by Bill Marriott and Catherine Reynolds .

Romney started off by saying that people ask him all the time what, if he had won in November, he would be doing differently from Obama.

“That reminds me of a story,” he said, pitching a variant of a joke about someone asking a famous leader how world history would be very different had Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev been assassinated in 1963 instead of John F. Kennedy.

(Various iterations have Richard Nixon asking this of Mao Zedong, someone asking this of Gore Vidal and a student asking this of the last head of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev , or of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev .)

The answer, always after much rumination, is that one can’t be sure, “but I don’t think Aristotle Onassis would have married Mrs. Khrushchev.”

We were told it brought down the house — a very friendly crowd indeed.

With Emily Heil

The blog:
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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