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Kerry Bounces Back, Hones Diplomatic Role

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry has finally found his groove, following a four-year period bookended by professional failures.

The Massachusetts Democrat won his party’s White House nomination in 2004, only to lose a close race to President George W. Bush in a campaign defined by political missteps. Four years later, Kerry was passed over for secretary of State by President Barack Obama in favor of Hillary Rodham Clinton, despite the fact that he had endorsed Obama over Clinton in the 2008 primary.

But two and a half years into his tenure running the Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry has emerged as an effective chairman and chief Obama ally. He has expanded the policy scope of the panel, enjoyed major legislative success on the president’s foreign policy priorities and traveled extensively throughout Asia and the Middle East on diplomatic missions that were closely coordinated with the White House.

“He’s done exceptionally well,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a Foreign Relations member, said Wednesday. “He certainly has even — beyond the committee — used his position as the chair to help the administration [around] the world. And so I think he’s had a remarkable tenure.”

Kerry is still thought to be very interested in moving over to Foggy Bottom if and when Clinton steps down. However, the subject is practically verboten in Kerry-world, with the Senator making it abundantly clear that he is focused on, and thoroughly enjoys, his day job.

Kerry steered the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia to ratification in December, navigating the kind of partisan waters usually reserved for domestic issues to secure the required
bipartisan supermajority with a couple of votes to spare after nearly a year of wrangling. This month, Kerry was on the cusp of forging bipartisan consensus on Libya before political maneuvering over the debt ceiling bumped the measure from the Senate floor.

Kerry, his aides insist, is satisfied with his Senate work and does not have a wandering eye.

John Kerry’s not looking for or pondering a new job, end of story. He loves being chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and the senior Senator from Massachusetts, period,” spokeswoman Jennifer Berlin said.

Kerry is no stranger to politics. The Vietnam veteran made a national name for himself in 1971, testifying on the war before the very committee he would end up chairing a quarter-century later. He ran unsuccessfully for the House in 1972, was elected lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in 1982, was elected to the Senate in 1984 and ran for president in 2004 — not to mention angling for power in the Senate during his four and a half terms. Until his presidential bid, however, he often served in the shadow of the “liberal lion,” the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who died in 2009.

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