Live Blog: Sen. Kerry’s Own Foreign Relations Panel Examines His SecState Nomination

President Barack Obama (L) and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., enter the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Dec. 21. Kerry is on Capitol Hill today for his confirmation hearing. Obama has tapped him to become America's top diplomat. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., appears — shy of any stumbles during today’s confirmation hearing — mere days away from finally becoming America’s top diplomat. This morning, Kerry will testify before the panel he technically still chairs, the Foreign Relations Committee, for his confirmation hearing.

The panel’s ranking Republican, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, told reporters Tuesday he expects Kerry will have to field some tough questions. But Corker predicted the overall tone of the back-and-forth “will be good.” After live-blogging over five hours of hearings yesterday on the Benghazi attack, your Intercepts correspondent figured a few more hours of instant-journalism was in order today. Kerry is expected to be asked about President Obama’s second term foreign policy agenda, plans for dealing with Iran and its nuclear-arms ambitions, rogue states like North Korea, and how Kerry views America’s necessary role in global affairs.

1:47 p.m. — Sens. Corker and Menendez wrap up the hearing by again praising Kerry’s qualifications for the secretary of state post. Menendez bangs the gavel Kerry soon will relinquish, ending what was a long but not contentious confirmation hearing. Note: Kerry says he plans to sit down next week with President Obama to discuss a myriad foreign policy issues. He could be confirmed by then. Thanks for stopping by. We’ll be here next Thursday (Jan. 31) with another live blog when former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., Obama’s controversial defense secretary nominee, appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing.  — John T. Bennett

1:36 p.m. — Asked just how the U.S. should shape a military build-up in the Asia-Pacific region, Kerry says he “is not convinced an increased military ramp up is necessary yet.” He then dives into the numbers: “We have more bases out there than any other nation, including China. We have a lot more forces than any other nation, including China.” Kerry also struck a cautionary tone, saying if the U.S. puts too many bases or troops in Beijing’s backyard, “China will wonder whether the U.S. is trying to circle us.” What’s more, the nominee says “pivot” is not accurate for administration’s foreign policy focus shift toward Asia is not quite accurate because “we are not turning away” from any other region. — John T. Bennett

1:27 p.m. — America must “build” its relations with Pakistan, not diminish them, as Paul suggested Washington should do.  — John T. Bennett

1:23 p.m. — Paul brought up Egyptian President Morsi’s harsh comments about Israelis and asks Kerry if “it’s wise to send them F-16s and Abrams tanks?” Kerry did not directly weigh in on arms sales to leaders who insult U.S. allies. But he did label Morsi’s comments “reprehensible” before telling Paul that not everything in foreign policy “is black-and-white” and noting Washington “[has] vital interests” with Egypt. Under Morsi, Egypt has lived by its landmark peace treaty with Israel, Kerry said. He told Paul his experience shows just because a democratic election puts in office someone the U.S. doesn’t like doesn’t mean the U.S. can afford to just walk away from that nation. — John T. Bennett

1:20 p.m. — GOP Sen. Rand Paul, the tea party Kentuckian, asks about whether Kerry agrees with candidate Obama or President Obama on the president’s ability to use military force. Kerry says there are times when presidents have to “do what needs to be done.” But he also said he’s a believer in Congress’s sole authority to declare war. Paul said one — perhaps the only — thing he liked about 2008 presidential candidate Obama was his declaration that a U.S. president cannot unilaterally take America to war. — John T. Bennett

1:04 p.m. — “This president doesn’t bluff,” Kerry said of Obama’s decision to launch a commando raid on bin Laden’s compound in May 2011. If and when Obama is confident the U.S. and its allies have located those individuals responsible for the Benghazi attack, the commander in chief will go after them, Kerry said.  — John T. Bennett

12:59 p.m. — The nominee notes al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden, now deceased, urged AQ operatives “to disperse” and “to get away from the drones,” citing documents taken from OBL’s Pakistan hideout.Realizing this dispersal has occurred, Kerry says that is why Obama is supporting the French military mission against extremist fighters in Mali. “It takes more than just a drone effort,” Kerry said, echoing Clinton’s comments yesterday that efforts again the al-Shabab group in Somalia is a good blueprint for coming efforts against AQ affiliates in North Africa. — John T. Bennett

12:55 p.m. —  Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., asked Kerry to bring lawmakers data spelling out just how hard the State Department’s share of the sequestration cuts would hit that agency. — John T. Bennett

12:50 p.m. — Kerry and McCain engage in some friendly sparring over Syria. McCain continues to press the Obama administration to act because “everyday that passes, it gets worse in Syria.” Kerry gave no indication that the U.S. intends to get directly involved militarily in that nation’s civil war. He told McCain that as the White House and Congress discuss options, anything that Washington does must be measured to ensure “that it will make things better.”  — John T. Bennett

12:40 p.m. — Back to Benghazi: “Americans do care,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told Kerry. “They do care about why four Americans are dead. … They do care about the talking points by Ms. Rice, which were false. … They need to know why the talking points … were false,” McCain said, adding several times: “We were misled.” And taking a direct shot at Clinton, McCain said sternly: “It does matter.” He vows to keep searching for the truth on “what happened at Benghazi.”  — John T. Bennett

12:35 p.m. — Kerry tells Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., that Washington must quickly negotiate a number of outstanding legal matters with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai because “after the election, I’m not sure” such compromise “will be possible.” A new government is expected to be elected in that nation’s next national election.  — John T. Bennett

12:21 p.m. — Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., asks Kerry about the situation in Syria, and Kerry offers a nuanced reply. “We need to change [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad’s calculation,” Kerry said. “He thinks he’s winning and the opposition is losing.” Kerry told the panel the Obama administration’s overall goal on Syria is to “effect some kind of orderly transition.” In a bit of news, the nominee says the Russian foreign minister and other officials in Moscow, in private talks, have indicated to him that they are ready to “see President Assad leave — but they have different ideas about the timing and manner of that” than do U.S. officials. “We have to increase the readiness of President Assad to see the die is cast,” Kerry said, while also doing things to “hold the state together in a transition.” — John T. Bennett

12:08 p.m. — Sen. Johnson brings up his flap yesterday with Secretary Clinton. Kerry says the two appeared “to be talking past each other.” Also says Johnson will not get “any daylight between me and Secretary Clinton.” Johnson says American people “were misled,” and Kerry interrupts him to say there was no decision or attempt to mislead the American people. Notably, Kerry takes a shot at Johnson for not attending a briefing on what happened in Benghazi, Libya, dropping into his description of it: “…for those of us who actually attended…” — John T. Bennett

11:52 a.m. — “We need to be thoughtful … of the history and culture of the places we’re dealing with,” Kerry tells Rubio. “We cannot just take the American [government model] and plunk it down.” Kerry says we can’t just rely on drones, but have to use “other kinds of fora and initiatives.” ANALYSIS: In many ways, this is yet another break from the George W. Bush era and, in some regards, portions of Obama’s first term. Obama started to enact this break Monday in his Inaugural address. — John T. Bennett

11:49 a.m. — Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a potential 2016 GOP presidential nominee, signaled his support to the Obama administration’s foreign policy “pivot” to Asia. Yet, Rubio asks: “If this sequestration goes through, what are we going to pivot to Asia with?” That’s a standard question among GOP hawks, and some congressional Democrats who favor a strong U.S. military and American intervention abroad.  — John T. Bennett

11:39 a.m. — Our quick piece on Kerry’s tone on Iran during the opening moments of the hearing is now live.

11:35 a.m. — “Hopefully we can get the relationship with Russia back in place” to allow for serious talks about bilateral nuclear-arms reductions and because “we need their help with Syria,” Kerry said. He acknowledged over the last few years, U.S.-Russian relations have declined. Kerry told the panel it is his understanding that those responsible for managing the U.S. nuclear weapons fleet believe recent funding cuts have not eroded the fleet’s status or reliability. Kerry said the Senate should cease what he sees as its practice of allowing “outside” entities to prevent it from acting on things like treaties with other nations. — John T. Bennett

11:15 a.m. — Kerry, under questioning from Corker, says he believes Hagel “is realistic” about the hurdles standing in the way of big reductions to the U.S. nuclear fleet. Corker is worried about a study Hagel signed onto calling for just that. Kerry defended the defense secretary nominee, saying the study in question laid out “a goal, an aspiration” for a nuclear-free world. And aspirations are a good thing, Kerry said, adding he believes the U.S. must maintain its current nuclear fleet in order to keep its deterrent against other nuclear-armed nations (read: Russia).  — John T. Bennett

11:07 a.m. — BIPARTISANSHIP ALERT: Sen. Corker says he is “thrilled” that Kerry has been tapped for a job Corker says “he’s lived a life” that has prepared him for the post.  — John T. Bennett

11:00 a.m. — Kerry reiterates that at some point this year, U.S. forces will no longer be in the lead in Afghanistan. They will step back as the ANSF takes full control. — John T. Bennett

10:55 a.m. — The nominee, in his first unofficial budget plea to lawmakers — and inevitably not his last — notes the State Department’s base budget is “less than 1 percent” of the U.S. federal budget. — John T. Bennett

10:38 a.m. — Kerry recalls standing in the Hanoi Hilton cell with McCain — just the two of them — and listening to the former Navy pilot recall his time there as a prisoner during the Vietnam War. — John T. Bennett

10:36 a.m. — Kerry, in comments directed at Sen. Menendez, confirms the N.J. Democrat likely will soon become the permanent Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman. — John T. Bennett

10:31 a.m. — Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also introduces his old friend, telling the panel he endorses Kerry’s nomination “with no reservations.” This seems like a done deal, but the nominee must still answer what should be some (somewhat) enlightening policy questions.  — John T. Bennett

10:26 a.m. — Clinton revealed she once called Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to request he not schedule any votes because Kerry was pinch-hitting for the Obama administration — in Afghanistan, negotiating with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.  — John T. Bennett

10:22 a.m. — As Clinton begins her introductory remarks, the senator with which she had that now-viral exchange, tea party Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, is watching and listening to her stoically, blinking rapidly and frowning a bit.  — John T. Bennett

10:19 a.m. — More from Kerry’s prepared remarks: He calls the world today “more complicated than anything we have experienced.” He cites the emergence of China, changes in the Arab world, “inextricably linked economic, health, environmental and demographic issues, proliferation, poverty, pandemic disease, refugees, conflict ongoing in Afghanistan … and the accelerating pace of technological innovation shifting power from nation-states to individuals.”  — John T. Bennett

10:12 a.m. and 10:14 a.m. — The committee’s acting chairman, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., says of the chances that Kerry will be confirmed by the full Senate: “I know that you will.” Corker says Kerry likely will confirmed by the full Senate very soon. He notes yesterday’s Benghazi hearings in the House and Senate shows Kerry will inherit “some systemic problems” inside the State Department. — John T. Bennett

10:10 a.m. — In prepared statement, on Iran: “The President has made it definitive — we will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. … Our policy is not containment. It is prevention and the clock is ticking on our efforts to secure responsible compliance.” Kerry goes on to state Obama and the administration would prefer a diplomatic resolution to the Iran situation, but concludes with this: “But no one should mistake our resolve to reduce the nuclear threat.”  — John T. Bennett

10:06 a.m. — Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the Hart chamber. She’s chatting and laughing with the very senators who grilled her yesterday. Clinton is seated beside Kerry at the witness table, and will join Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the junior senator (for a few more days, at least) from Massachusetts, in introducing him. — John T. Bennett

10:01 a.m. — More from Kerry’s prepared statement: “President Obama and every one of us here knows that American foreign policy is not defined by drones and deployments alone.”  — John T. Bennett

9:55 a.m. — In his written statement, Kerry tells the senators “in many ways the greatest challenge to America’s foreign policy will be in your hands, not mine — because while it’s often said that we can’t be strong at home if we’re not strong in the world … I am especially cognizant of the fact that we can’t be strong in the world unless we are strong at home.” Kerry adds lawmakers must ensure “America at last puts its own fiscal house in order.” The nominee said “it is urgent that we show people we can get our business done in an effective and timely way.”  — John T. Bennett


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