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He is more familiar with Southeast Asia. He was a decorated Navy lieutenant in the Vietnam War, then became a prominent anti-war protester. In the 1990s he chaired the Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs to look into Americans soldiers still missing from the Vietnam War. He and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., then teamed up to successfully push legislation normalizing relations with Vietnam.
As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry worked closely with President Bill Clinton’s administration on those and other foreign policy efforts, and has also been an important advocate for Obama. He has defended the administration’s measured steps on Iran and Syria from lawmakers who want more aggressive action. And he was a key backer of Obama’s decision to conduct air strikes in Libya, even without going to Congress for authorization. Similarly, he backed military intervention in Bosnia on humanitarian grounds in the 1990s, though he voted against the first Gulf War and became an outspoken critic of the Iraq War, as well.
Kerry has been an active advocate on climate change policy, spearheading Senate efforts on 2010 legislation to reduce U.S. carbon emissions. The bill stalled in the Senate without sufficient Republican support, but environmental advocates are hopeful that Kerry can reignite that advocacy in his new post. Clinton made moves to make environment and energy policy a State Department priority, creating a new department Bureau of Energy Resources earlier this year.
One early political test for Kerry in this regard is the Keystone XL oil pipeline energy companies want to build from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast. The State Department is conducting an environmental review that project, which Obama cited in delaying granting a presidential permit for the pipeline last year.
More broadly, Kerry has consistently defended the executive branch’s prerogative to make foreign policy — on Libya this decade and against efforts by then-Foreign Relations Chairman Jesse Helms, R-N.C., in the 1990s to curb Clinton’s power on various policies and block State Department nominations. That may not endear him to his Senate colleagues when he enters the executive branch, but that hasn’t stopped them from offering their widespread backing of his potential nomination.
Republican senators — many of whom opposed Obama’s presumed first choice for the post, United Nations Ambassador Susan E. Rice — have lauded Kerry as a superior alternative. McCain, Rice’s leading critic, has even taken to calling Kerry “Mr. Secretary.”
On Friday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called Kerry “a very solid choice by the president.” And McCain said he has “confidence in his ability to carry out that job.”
Rice — who is personally much closer to the president than Kerry — withdrew her name from consideration last week, citing “baseless political attacks.”