Caroline Kennedy coasts through Senate confirmation hearing on Japan ambassadorship

Caroline Kennedy: The soft-spoken Kennedy told the Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday that if confirmed, she would work to strengthen the crucial bond between the United States and its Asian ally on trade, the military and student exchanges.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
Caroline Kennedy of New York pauses during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on her nomination for Ambassador to Japan, on Capitol Hill, Sept. 19, in Washington. Former first daughter Caroline Kennedy said she would be humbled to carry forward her father's legacy if confirmed by the Senate to be the next US ambassador to Japan.

Former first daughter Caroline Kennedy coasted through a Senate confirmation hearing to be the next U.S. ambassador to Japan, promising to carry forward John F. Kennedy's legacy with humility.

The soft-spoken Kennedy told the Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday that if confirmed, she would work to strengthen the crucial bond between the United States and its Asian ally on trade, the military and student exchanges.

Japan is the U.S.'s fourth-largest trading partner and is home to the Navy's 7th Fleet and 50,000 American troops.

With her husband, Edwin Schlossberg, son, Jack, and daughter Tatiana seated nearby, Kennedy said she understood her responsibility to uphold the ideals of her father — "a deep commitment to public service, a more just America and a more peaceful world."

Her father served in the Pacific during World War II, battling Japanese forces. The daughter, seeking the diplomatic post for a fierce enemy-turned-friend, said that if confirmed, "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 noted the significance of her nomination 50 years since her father's presidency, focusing on his tenure rather than on his assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.

Kennedy faced gentle questioning from Republicans and Democrats on the committee, signaling that she faced no obstacles to confirmation. Several senators said she would make a "great" ambassador.

Kennedy said that her father had wanted to be the first sitting president to make a state visit to Japan, especially since he was a World War II veteran. Kennedy said she visited Japan in 1978 with her uncle, then Sen. Ted Kennedy, and was moved by a visit to Hiroshima. Attending the hearing was Vicki Kennedy, the senator's widow.

"This is indeed an important moment in the history of U.S.-Japan relations," she said. "Japan is enjoying a period of political stability and economic renewal and is eager to increase trade and investment with the United States."

President Barack Obama chose Kennedy, 55, an attorney and best-selling book editor, for the diplomatic job. If confirmed, she would be the first woman in a post from which many other prominent Americans have served to strengthen a vital Asian tie, including the late Sen. Mike Mansfield, former Sens. Walter Mondale and Howard Baker and former Rep. Tom Foley.

"You have a good sense of what national interests are," said Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the senior Republican on the panel.

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia noted the unusual symmetry: President Kennedy was honored for his military service fighting Japan; decades later, his daughter would be the top diplomat in Japan. Kaine said it was reminder that hostilities and foes need not be permanent.

Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming pressed Kennedy on whether she would work to end the Japanese tariff on soda ash, or sodium carbonate, a critical deposit in Wyoming. Barrasso said it was the Wyoming Democratic delegation that put candidate John Kennedy over the top at the 1960 convention and mentioned that 13,000 turned out in Laramie for a speech by the president in 1963.

"I wouldn't be sitting here if it weren't for the state of Wyoming," Kennedy told the senator in promising to look into the tax issue.

New York's two senators, Democrats Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, introduced Kennedy to the committee. Schumer noted that Kennedy and her daughter Tatiana made a three-mile swim in the Hudson River last weekend for charity to fight leukemia, swimming from Nyack to Sleepy Hollow.

Caroline Kennedy helped propel Obama to the Democratic presidential nomination with her endorsement over Hillary Rodham Clinton — the only time she's endorsed a presidential candidate other than her uncle Ted in 1980.

If confirmed, Kennedy would replace John Roos, a wealthy former Silicon Valley lawyer and top Obama campaign fundraiser.

Kennedy's confirmation to the post by the Senate would bring a third generation of her family into the U.S. diplomatic corps. Her grandfather Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. was President Franklin D. Roosevelt's ambassador to Britain, while her aunt Jean Kennedy Smith was ambassador to Ireland under President Bill Clinton.

Caroline Kennedy was five days shy of her sixth birthday when her father was killed, and she lived most of the rest of her life in New York City. She earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard University, got a law degree from Columbia University, married exhibit designer Schlossberg and had three children.

Kennedy is president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and chairs the senior advisory committee of the Institute of Politics at Harvard. She has served on the boards of numerous nonprofit organizations, helped raise millions of dollars for New York schools and edited numerous bestselling books on history, law and poetry.

She considered running for political office after Clinton resigned the New York Senate seat to serve as Obama's secretary of state. But Kennedy eventually withdrew herself from consideration to fill the seat, once held by her uncle Robert F. Kennedy, citing unspecified personal reasons.

Gillibrand was appointed to the Senate seat.

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