It looks likely that Sen. John Kerry will be nominated to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is expected to retire from the post as part of President Obama’s second term cabinet reshuffle.
The move is not a surprise, particularly following the withdrawal of United Nations ambassador Susan Rice from consideration for the post. Ambassador Rice has been the target of fierce opposition by Senate Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain, who vowed to block her confirmation.
Ms. Rice was criticized for her comments shortly after the September attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which included the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other US personnel, including two Navy SEALs.
President Obama had voiced strong support for Rice in his first post-election news conference last month – pointedly taking on Sen. McCain and other Republicans who had accused Rice of twisting early details about the Benghazi attack for political purposes during the presidential campaign.
Rice’s defenders continue to insist that her comments during appearances on Sunday TV talk shows just a week after the attack were based on talking points provided by US intelligence agencies.
More recently, the White House – including Obama – has been less vocal in support of Rice, which some of her more ardent supporters have complained about.
It seemed increasingly clear that the administration was reluctant to expend any more political capital on what likely would be a messy confirmation fight, perhaps leading to defeat at a time when other issues – avoiding the “fiscal cliff,” in particular – were seen as more important.
Unlike Rice, Kerry likely would have no trouble winning the approval of his fellow senators.
"I think John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues," Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins said recently.
With Kerry’s move to the State Department, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (a Democrat) would be expected to name a temporary replacement. Then under state election law a special election would be held 145-160 days later.
The winner of that special election to fill out the remaining year and a half of Kerry’s term then would face reelection. Prominently mentioned as the Republican nominee is recent loser Scott Brown – a GOP moderate who has showed he can win in a relatively liberal state.
The announcement of Kerry's nomination could come as early as mid-week, according to one source knowledgeable of the situation, Reuters reports, although it could also be delayed to avoid the impression of an overly-hasty return to politics following the Sandy Hook School massacre that killed 27 people, including 20 first-graders.
Kerry at State is expected to be part of a national security cabinet shuffle, including a new Defense Secretary to replace Leon Panetta, who has said he intends to retire early next year, and a new CIA Director to replace retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, who resigned over a scandal involving an extra-marital affair.
Prominently mentioned as a replacement for Sec. Panetta is former US Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican.
Hagel is a “contrarian Republican moderate and decorated Vietnam combat veteran who is likely to support a more rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan,” reports the Associated Press. “As President Barack Obama’s top candidate for defense secretary, Hagel has another credential important to the president: a personal relationship with Obama, forged when they were in the Senate and strengthened during overseas trips they took together.”