POMED Notes: “John Kerry Senate Confirmation Hearing”
The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a confirmation hearing on Thursday (1/24) for Senator John Kerry’s (D-MA) nomination to the post of U.S. Secretary of State. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the committee chairman, presided.
For full event notes continue reading, or click here for the PDF.
Senator Menendez opened by paying tribute to Senator Kerry’s 29-year membership on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and his work fighting terrorism, supporting HIV/AIDS efforts, and addressing human rights and climate change. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), the ranking member, also thanked Kerry for his service and signaled that his confirmation would be quick. He noted that Kerry is inheriting a department that is facing budgetary constraints and pressing global challenges. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) offered personal recommendations for Kerry. Clinton called him “the right choice” to carry American foreign policy forward and McCain said Kerry is more than suited to assume the post.
Senator John Kerry stated that he looks forward to tackling some of the biggest issues and that his approach is deeply informed by his 29 years of service to the committee, which faces the greatest challenges to foreign policy on account of necessary budget cuts. He said, “We can’t be strong in the world unless we’re strong at home.” Kerry stressed that America must put its fiscal house in order, charging that the U.S. is the indispensable nation because it is committed to the cause of human rights and upholding its governing ideals around the world. He added that “more than ever, U.S. foreign policy is economic policy.” Kerry stated that America’s policies cannot be defined by the role thrust upon it after the September 2001 attacks, but that they must be defined by its response to human trafficking, prisoners in North Korea gulags, food insecurity around the world, and the plight of millions of refugees. Kerry expressed his determination to work to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Senator Menendez began the questioning by asking Kerry what parameters the P5+1 group should adopt concerning Iran’s enrichment program. Additionally, he asked Kerry to articulate the administration’s end goals in Afghanistan. Kerry gave Congress credit for the sanctions against Iran, noted the willingness of the Obama administration to engage in bilateral discussions, and said Iran must prove that its program is for peaceful purposes only. On Afghanistan, Kerry confirmed the commitment to turn over security responsibility to the Afghan government in 2014, maintain America’s capacity to prevent terrorism, and support an Afghan-led reconciliation process.
Senator Corker thanked Kerry for already responding to 75 questions from his office. He asked about recent statements by Secretary of Defense -designee Chuck Hagel regarding reducing America’s nuclear stockpile and whether he had met with President Obama and Secretary Clinton to talk through the issues in North Africa. Kerry stated “I know Chuck Hagel, and I think he is a strong, patriotic former senator and [will be] a strong Secretary of Defense,” and that nuclear arms reduction was an aspiration that would take time. Kerry said that he will be meeting with officials next week to discuss the North Africa issues, but underscored the challenges with seizing policy opportunities in the Middle East when the situation is so volatile.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) asked if Kerry would continue Secretary Clinton’s work to promote the inclusion of women in governance and maintain the position of Ambassador-at-Large for Women’s Affairs. Kerry emphatically committed the State Department to continue promoting women’s rights and address human trafficking. He agreed that emphasizing women’s role in conflict prevention is beneficial and necessary to the maintenance of peace.
Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) asked Kerry about maintaining the integration of America’s diplomacy, defense, and international assistance at the Department of State. Kerry stressed that “we have huge challenges…and the U.S. has a fundamental obligation that comes from the definition of who we are as a nation, to keep faith with those who are struggling in various parts of the world.”
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) stated that he struggles to understand what President Obama’s foreign policy vision is, pointing specifically to the failure to support pro-democracy movements in war-torn Syria and Iran during the 2009 presidential elections. He asked what advice Kerry would give the President on America’s role in the world and foreign policy. Kerry answered by supporting President Obama’s stance to intervene in Libya, declaring that it achieved exactly what the U.S. wanted. He said, “There is a monumental transformation taking place. This is the biggest upheaval in that part of the world since the Ottoman Empire.” Kerry stressed that America must be thoughtful of the history and culture of the Middle East and that the U.S. could “do a better job galvanizing people.” He stated, “We cannot afford a diplomacy that is defined by troops or drones,” and that U.S. foreign policy must be defined by other initiatives.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) asked what international efforts would be taken to secure loose chemical weapons in a post-Assad state and how he would promote American business interests abroad. Kerry said that contingency plans were being drawn up and that Russia was similarly interested in containing the weapons. He stated that “foreign policy is increasingly economic policy” and that he will work closely with the Treasury and Agriculture Departments to more aggressively advocate American business interests.
Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) asked whether Kerry agreed with Secretary Clinton’s remarks from the prior day’s hearing on Benghazi, if he would commit to working with the committee to get to the bottom of the attack, and if he would encourage President Obama to address the debt-deficit situation. Kerry said that there was no disagreement about the events of the attack, that an investigation was ongoing to determine the details, and that he would address the fiscal situation as it related to the State Department.
Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) asked what Kerry would do to make sure American humanitarian aid to Syria was more visible. Kerry said, “We need to change Bashar Al-Assad’s calculation. He doesn’t think he’s losing, and the opposition thinks its winning.” He indicated a need to effect an “orderly transition” and develop a longer-term strategy to ensure a proper transition that holds the state together.
Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) mentioned the U.N.’s recent recognition of the Palestinian Authority and asked what measures Kerry would take to deny funding to the U.N. and its ancillary organs and how he would carry American interests in peace forward. Kerry stated, “Categorically, we do not feel like unilateral steps are helpful on either side,” and stressed that the U.S. could not have America’s interests represented if it did not participate in the U.N. and cut funding to the body. Senator Flake also asked what the U.S. was learning from leaving vacant embassy and consular bodies in Iraq and Afghanistan, to which Kerry said the State Department had created a working group that was addressing the matter.
Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) asked Kerry if upcoming elections in Afghanistan would be free and fair and about his commitment to its women and girls. Kerry said that peace in Afghanistan could not be secured unless women participate fully in governance and promised to continue Clinton’s efforts.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) stated that the American people were misled by Susan Rice’s statements on Benghazi and by discrepancies in President Obama’s remarks. He stressed that the U.S. was “sowing the wind in Syria and [that] we will reap the whirlwind,” noting that Assad was ethnically cleansing an area. He charged that Russian President Vladimir Putin was acting inhumanely and that the U.S. must send the Syrian people a message that it would help them. He said that the administration must offer more than a confirmation that Assad’s downfall was coming. Kerry noted his frustration and said he was “deadly serious when I say we need to…have congressional consensus on this.” Kerry stressed that the U.S. must balance its regional interests and its allies interests in a workable solution.
Senator Jon Barrasso (R-WY) asked Kerry to assess the strength of Al Qaeda and its affiliates. Kerry noted the decimation of Al Qaeda’s core leadership, but said it had urged its cohorts to disperse and start new groups. He noted the increased threat and said “we can change these things, but it takes a focused effort…more than just drone effort. We have to be prepared to do that in the Maghreb.”
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) questioned Kerry about executive authority and the authority to go to war without congressional approval. Kerry stated that he fully supported the War Powers Act, but that there were times when presidents must take decisive action to prevent bloodshed. Paul asked about the Constitution’s stipulations on this matter and whether a U.N. resolution was enough to send the U.S. into conflict. Kerry said it was not, but that it was a necessary ingredient during times of emergency. Paul asked Kerry about arms sales to Egypt, to which Kerry stated that it continued to be a critical partner in the region and that the U.S. had no intention of selling weapons to regional players that upset its relationship with Israel. Paul also asked Kerry if he would support cutting off aid to Pakistan. Kerry said this would hamper U.S. efforts to work with Pakistan on regional security and endanger our delicate relationship, saying, “As complicated as [our] relationship is, [I] can’t recommend for American policy to cut assistance. Build [the] relationship, not diminish it.”
Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) inquired about Kerry’s approach to advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace and the State Department’s role in promoting religious freedom. Kerry stated that President Obama was committed to a two-state solution and that the U.S.’s engagements in the region are all tied to America’s relationship with Israel. He said that religious tolerance is front and center to America’s dialogue with the world and noted that “radical Islam is not Islam, but radicalized Islam is…a hijacking.”