A Day with his Pals: Kerry Coasts Through Nomination Hearing

Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) hearing today for his nomination to be the next secretary of State was interrupted by a screaming Code Pink protester, who gave a rather lengthy antiwar tirade before being escorted from the room.

“You’re killing thousands of people!” she yelled. “The Middle East is not a threat to us! When is it going to be enough? When are enough people going to be killed? I’m tired of my friends in the Middle East dying! I don’t know if they’re going to be alive the next day!”

Instead of simply carrying on with his opening statement, Kerry took a moment to sympathize with the protester, alluding to his own antiwar demonstration days.

“When I first came to Washington and testified, I obviously was testifying as part of a group of people who came here to have their voices heard. And that is above all what this place is about,” he said. “So I respect — I think the woman who was voicing her concerns about that part of the world — and everyone of you have traveled there. Some of you there were recently.”

Kerry’s hearing was not so much a nomination grilling as it was a meeting of old friends seeing off their colleague who sat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 28 years.

Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who took the gavel from Kerry after the nomination, even called the Massachusetts Democrat “Mr. Secretary” before correcting himself.

“I thought this could be quick,” Kerry said, laughing and half-standing as if to leave.

Kerry was introduced first by new Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “I have the privilege of speaking for a man I know will continue in the tradition of John Quincy Adams, and Christian Herter as great secretaries from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” she said. “…I think one day historians will judge his Senate years in terms of his impact on foreign policy, much the same way so many recognize Senator Ted Kennedy’s impact on domestic policy.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who appeared before the panel yesterday on Benghazi, said Kerry asked her to come and drop in a good word for her.

“He has a view of the world that he has acted on, first as that young returning veteran from Vietnam who appeared before this committee, through the time that he served with such distinction as is chairman,” Clinton said. “He’s been a valued partner to this administration and to me personally.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), at times throughout the years at odds with Kerry, introduced his longtime friend. “We’ve had our disagreements, which is unsurprising, given our political differences. And, as often the case in our business, our friendship has been affected from time to time by our enthusiasm for our differing views and by the competitive nature of politics,” he said.

“But the friendship has endured, I believe it is based in mutual respect. Some observers have attributed that respect to the fact that when we were much younger, nicer and better looking men than we are now, Senator Kerry and I spent some time at the Navy’s behest in a certain southeast Asian country in less pleasant circumstances than we’re accustomed to in the United States Senate.”

With his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, brother and Commerce Department counsel Cameron Kerry, and daughter Vanessa seated behind him, the senator quipped about the unusual view from the witness table.

“Suddenly, I am feeling a lot of sympathy for the folks who sit down here. I want you to know that a couple of nights ago I was watching Godfather II. So be forewarned, if someone suddenly shows up with my long lost brother back in the audience, all bets are off, folks,” he said.

“…I will not take it personally that this may be the one item in Washington that seems to unite Democrats and Republicans to get me out of the Senate quickly.”

Kerry fielded some grave if not especially challenging questions, like on Iran’s nuclear program. Menendez is expected to be a tougher Foreign Relations chairman on Iran than Kerry ever was.

“It would be totally inappropriate for me here to begin to negotiate with myself and the committee with respect to how they would come into compliance or what would be required,” Kerry said. “I can tell you this: It is going to be imperative that they come into full compliance and there are several ways in which we might be able to get there, and most prominently, obviously, the P-5-plus-1.”

“If their program is peaceful, they can prove it. And that’s what we are seeking,” he added.

Like yesterday’s Clinton hearing, the only real hardballs came from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a new member of the committee this Congress.

“In the early 1970s, you know, after Vietnam, you were quite critical of the bombing in Cambodia because I think you felt that it wasn’t authorized by Congress. Has your opinion changed about the bombing in Cambodia? How is Cambodia different than Libya?” Paul asked in a thread of questioning about war powers.

“It was an extension of the war that was being prosecuted without the involvement of Congress after a number of years. That’s very different,” Kerry responded. “…Look, you can be absolutist and apply it to every circumstance. The problem is it just doesn’t work in some instances. When 10,000 people are about to be wiped out by a brutal dictator and you need to make a quick judgment about engagement, you certainly can’t rely on a Congress that has proven itself unwilling to move after weeks and months sometimes.”

“Do you think a U.N. resolution sufficient to go to war?” Paul continued.

“No. No. I think a U.N. resolution — when you say sufficient to go to war, I think a U.N. resolution is a necessary ingredient to provide the legal basis for military action in an emergency,” Kerry said. “It is not by any means sufficient to require the United States to do something, because we obey our Constitution and our interests and our rights.”

Paul asked about the F-16s and tanks being sent to Egypt despite comments President Mohamed Morsi has made about Israelis being descended from apes and pigs.

“I think those comments are reprehensible. And those comments set back the possibilities of working toward mutual — issues of mutual interests. They are degrading comments. They are unacceptable by anybody’s standard. And I think they have to appropriately be apologized for,” Kerry said. “…President Morsi has issued two statements to clarify those comments. And we had a group of senators who met with him just the other day who spent a good part of their conversation in relatively heated discussion with him about it. But not everything — you know, this is always the complication in dealings in the international sector. Not everything lends itself to a simple clarity of black-white, this-that every time. We have critical interests with Egypt.”

“But this has been our problem with our foreign policy for decades, Republican and Democrat,” Paul said. “We funded bin Laden. We funded the mujahedeen. We were in favor of the radical jihad because they were the enemy of our enemy. We’ve done this so often. I see these weapons coming back to threaten Israel.”

After a nearly four-hour hearing, there was little doubt about which way the Senate will go on the nomination of their longtime colleague.

“The Senate has an obligation to ensure that presidential nominees are competent, qualified, and free of hindrances that would affect their ability to serve. But I believe that once a nominee passes those tests, presidents, whether Democrat or Republican, ought to have the ability to select members of their administrations,” said committee member Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) after the hearing.

“While I expect to disagree with the Obama Administration over how best to carry out U.S. interests abroad, Senator Kerry is qualified to serve as Secretary of State,” Flake said. “I look forward to working with him in that capacity.”