Caroline Kennedy’s nomination to be the next U.S. ambassador to Japan was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee tonight, sending the appointment to the full Senate for confirmation.
The panel’s voice vote puts Kennedy, 55, one step away from becoming the first woman to serve as the top U.S. representative in Japan, a fact she noted in her confirmation hearing earlier this month, when she expressed hope that she could set an example. Senators voted tonight in Washington as the clock ticked toward a potential government shutdown at midnight.
Kennedy would assume the post as President Barack Obama’s administration is making Asia a foreign policy priority. The U.S. is shifting military resources to the region and working on a new alliance, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, meant to anchor it within the world’s fastest-growing economic region and help achieve the administration’s goal of doubling U.S. exports over the five years ending in 2015.
At her Sept. 19 confirmation hearing, Kennedy said her father, slain President John F. Kennedy, had hoped to be the first sitting president to make a state visit to Japan. “If confirmed as ambassador, I would be humbled to carry forward his legacy in a small way and represent the powerful bonds that unite our two democratic societies,” she said.
The ambassadorship to Japan has in the past usually been reserved for political figures such as former Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, former Vice President Walter Mondale, and former House Speaker Tom Foley. Kennedy, who played a prominent role in Obama’s two election campaigns, will replace John Roos, a former Silicon Valley lawyer and Obama fundraiser.
Kennedy will contend with trade disputes, long-standing tensions over the presence of U.S. Marines on the southern island of Okinawa, and heightened tensions between China and Japan over a territorial dispute. The competing land claims by the two historical rivals has prompted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to order a defense review and propose the broadest changes to Japan’s military posture since World War II.