Senate Foreign Relations Backs Kerry for Secretary of State

President Barack Obama’s nomination of Senator John Kerry to be secretary of state won approval today from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The panel’s action by voice vote sends the nomination to the Senate floor, where a final vote is scheduled for later today. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the committee, showed up after the committee’s action to thank his colleagues for their support.

Senator Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat in line to replace Kerry as chairman, said the senator has “an impressive grasp and depth and thoughtfulness.” Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the panel, said, “I view him as a realist, and I look forward to working with him.”

With members of both parties predicting Kerry will easily win Senate confirmation, attention will turn to Obama’s more contentious choices for other national security positions. Confirmation hearings are scheduled on Jan. 31 for former Senator Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense and on Feb. 7 for John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency.

On foreign policy, Kerry shares Obama’s preference for working through multinational alliances and for avoiding open-ended engagement, such as the Iraq war they both opposed. Kerry’s approach to U.S. intervention abroad has been reflected by his comments on the war in Syria, in which he has shared Obama’s reluctance about direct military involvement.

Kerry and Obama have political bonds dating to 2004, when the senator gave Obama his breakthrough opportunity as the keynote speaker at the Democratic convention that nominated Kerry for president. The speech turned Obama, a state senator from Illinois running for the U.S. Senate, into a national political star.

Vietnam Service

After graduating from Yale University, Kerry volunteered for the Navy. In two tours of duty in Vietnam, he rose to the rank of lieutenant and served on a Swift Boat that traveled treacherous river deltas. He was decorated with a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.

Kerry came to see the war he fought as futile, and on his return to the U.S. he became a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Kerry made an unsuccessful bid for a House seat from Massachusetts the following year, then worked as a prosecutor before being elected lieutenant governor in 1982 and senator in 1984.

In 2008, Kerry backed Obama over front-runner Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primaries, only to see Obama choose Clinton as his first-term secretary of state. Clinton is planning to depart the post within days.

Largely because of the wealth of his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, Kerry is one of the richest members of Congress. His net worth was at least $181.5 million in 2011, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.