John Kerry Lauded At Senate Confirmation Hearing

Sen. John Kerry appeared before fellow members of his Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing as the next secretary of state on Thursday.

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And it was a big day for Senator John Kerry. The Massachusetts Democrat took a step closer to what many in Washington say is his dream job, becoming secretary of state. Kerry went before the committee he's long chaired for his confirmation hearing.

And it was a love-fest, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: As the ranking Republican, Bob Corker of Tennessee, was quick to point out, Kerry seems to have been grooming himself to become secretary of state all his life.

SENATOR BOB CORKER: I look at you, in being nominated for this, as someone who has almost lived their entire life, if you will, for this moment, being able to serve in this capacity.

KELEMEN: Kerry has spent decades on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He helped the Obama administration on tricky diplomatic missions to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan. And he grew up in a Foreign Service family. Kerry choked up a bit when talking about his father.

SENATOR JOHN KERRY: My father's work under presidents, both Democratic and Republican, took me and my siblings around the world for a personal journey that brought home the sacrifices and the commitment the men and women of the Foreign Service make every day on behalf of America.

KELEMEN: Kerry was diplomatic, even when a protester briefly interrupted him to raise concerns about U.S. policy in the Middle East.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I'm tired of my friends in the Middle East dying. I don't know if they're alive or not dead...

KELEMEN: As a Vietnam War veteran turned anti-war activist, he seemed sympathetic.

KERRY: When I first came to Washington and testified, I obviously was testifying as part of a group of people who came here to have their voices heard. And that is, above all, what this place is about.

KELEMEN: Senator Kerry spent weeks preparing for this hearing and he has clearly been thinking a lot about America's role in the world.

KERRY: We can't be strong in the world unless we're strong at home. And the first priority of business - which will affect my credibility as a diplomat and our credibility as a nation - as we work to help other countries create order, the first priority will be that America at last puts its own fiscal house in order.

KELEMEN: His colleagues on the committee asked about a range of issues. New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, who chaired the hearing, made clear he'd like to see the Obama administration get much tougher with Iran.

SENATOR ROBERT MENENDEZ: Will the department be committed to the full enforcement of the sanctions passed by the Congress, and to multilateral efforts to ensure the adherence of other nations to these sanction?

KERRY: Yes. Totally.

KELEMEN: Though Kerry says the administration's policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, not to contain a nuclear-armed Iran, he says he and President Obama prefer a diplomatic solution.

KERRY: I think everybody is very hopeful that we can make some progress on the diplomatic front now.

KELEMEN: While senators went easy on Kerry, some were highly critical of the Obama administration's foreign policy. Florida Republican Marco Rubio offered a scathing review of policies from the Middle East to Latin America. Senator John McCain of Arizona spoke about the rising death toll in Syria and an expanding refugee crisis. He accused the Obama administration of inaction there.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: We can do a lot more without putting American boots on the ground. And we can prevent this further slaughter and massacre and inhumanity. Otherwise, we will be judged very, very harshly by history.

KELEMEN: Kerry told McCain that you have to make sure if you do something, you make things better.

KERRY: What I think everyone worries about, John, is that if you have a complete implosion of the state, nobody has clear definition of how you put those pieces back together, number one. And number two, you have a much greater risk with respect to the chemical weapons.

KELEMEN: Ever the cautious diplomat, Kerry didn't lock himself into many policy prescriptions. He spoke about his hopes to deal with climate change, do more to help failing states and to try to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations before, he says, the window closes on a two-state solution.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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