Speaking at his secretary of State confirmation hearing, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., made an unexpected and forceful appeal Thursday to his colleagues in Congress to get the country’s own fiscal house in order, arguing that it’s a prerequisite for American leadership abroad.
“The greatest challenge to America’s foreign policy will be in your hands, not mine,” Kerry told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a panel he has chaired for the past four years.
“More than ever, foreign policy is economic policy,” he said in his opening remarks. “My plea is that we can summon, across party lines, without partisan divisions, an economic patriotism that recognizes that American strength and prospects abroad depend on American strength and results at home.”
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the new ranking Republican on the committee, told Kerry those comments had him wishing, for a moment, that “you’d been nominated for secretary of Treasury.”
Kerry, who has served in the Senate for almost three decades, choked up as he remarked that he had both the Senate and the Foreign Service in his blood, and he promised to work closely with the Congress in forging ahead on U.S. foreign policy priorities.
The veteran lawmaker made clear during the hearing that he intends to follow closely in the footsteps of his predecessor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom he said “has set a very high mark for the stewardship of the State Department and her commitment to country.”
In his opening statement, Kerry promised to “work hard to augment our public diplomacy” — something Clinton has excelled at — and noted that “there is more that can be done to advance our economic capacity and interests.” Clinton elevated what she dubbed “economic statecraft” to the top of the State Department’s agenda.
Kerry highlighted both those aspects of diplomacy in the context of the Arab Spring, which he called “a monumental transformation” for the region.
“I think there is a struggle that is going to go on while we are here, while I’m secretary and you are senators ... for the minds of people in many parts of the world,” he told Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who expressed concern that the Obama administration has not done enough to engage Libya since the fall of its dictator, Muammar el-Qaddafi. “I believe we can do a better job, frankly, of galvanizing people around the values and ideas that we have organized ourselves around. But we have to do it, I think, in a lot of different ways.”
On Syria, Kerry wholeheartedly backed the cautious approach the administration has taken, advocating a political solution to the civil war there that would succeed in easing autocrat Bashar al-Assad out the door without precipitating the country’s collapse into sectarian violence.
During the hearing, Sen. John McCain urged Kerry, as secretary, to take more muscular steps to help solve the crisis in Syria.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.