Will Sen. Kerry Become the Next Defense Secretary?

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., waves as he walks to a closed briefing about the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, on Capitol Hill on Nov. 13, 2012. (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., is staying mum about whether he is in talks about joining President Obama’s Cabinet.

Washington is abuzz with media reports and cocktail reception scuttlebutt about whether Kerry, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, soon will become secretary of state or defense secretary.

Congressional sources and Washington insiders say Obama and his closest aides know they owe Kerry a plumb post. After all, Kerry on several occasions during Obama’s first term played diplomatic fireman at the president’s request. What’s more, Kerry was a campaign-trail advocate for Obama, and delivered what some longtime observers called one of his best speeches at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Reporters tried on Tuesday (Nov. 13) to pry details from Kerry as he headed into a closed-door briefing with CIA and FBI officials about the deadly attack on a U.S. diplomatic consulate in Benghazi, Libya. But Kerry declined to address any potential talks he’s had about jumping to the executive branch.

One lobbyist who said he has worked with Kerry for decades told Intercepts “there’s only one job for John,” referring to Foggy Bottom.

The notion of Kerry replacing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “would be insulting,” the lobbyist said, “because he has been such an international figure for so long.”

Obama and his top aides are floating Kerry’s name for the top Pentagon civilian post because the president reportedly wants to install U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice as secretary of state.

But Obama might be forced to opt for Kerry as America’s top diplomat because Republican senators have been forceful in stating they likely would vote against her during the confirmation process. The GOP lawmakers are angry about Rice’s insistence in the days following the Benghazi attack that it was the result of a spontaneous protest of a YouTube video many Muslims found offensive and not, as the administration later said, a planned al Qaeda attack.

Nominating Rice essentially would equate to picking a fight with Senate Republicans at a time when Obama is trying to repair his dysfunctional relationship with them as talks begin about a massive fiscal package that’s needed to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.

Is Obama in a fighting mood? Stay tuned. There is talk a nominee’s name could be sent to the Senate in mere days.


John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett