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24 January 2013
Summary of Kerry Nomination Hearing

Senate Foreign Relations Committee

On Thursday, January 24th, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a confirmation hearing for Senator John Kerry, who has been nominated to serve as Secretary of State. In light of Senator Kerry’s nearly 29 years of service on the Committee (the last four as Chairman) and strong relationships with his colleagues, the hearing took on a largely deferential tone, though several Republican Senators continued to hammer the Administration on Benghazi. While there was relatively little in the way of direct mentions of the UN or discussion of U.S. engagement with the world body, several noteworthy exchanges from the Q&A portion of the hearing are highlighted below. In addition, it is worth noting that Senator Kerry, in his opening remarks, discussed America’s budgetary challenges and made a case for protecting the international affairs budget from drastic cuts.

Participating Senators

Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Barbara Boxer (D-CA) 
Ben Cardin (D-MD) 
Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) 
Chris Coons (D-DE)
Bob Casey (D-PA)
Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Tom Udall (D-NM)
Chris Murphy (D-CT)
Tim Kaine (D-VA)
Tim Kaine (D-VA)
Bob Corker (R-TN)
James Risch (R-ID)
Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Ron Johnson (R-WI)
Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
John McCain (R-AZ)
John Barrasso (R-WY)
Rand Paul (R-KY)


  • At the outset of the Q&A session, Senator Menendez asked about Iran sanctions and what the U.S. seeks to achieve through multilateral diplomatic efforts regarding the country’s nuclear program. Senator Kerry responded that it is imperative for the Iranians to come into full compliance with the NPT, all UN Security Council resolutions regarding Iranian uranium enrichment activities, and to open itself up to full inspections by the IAEA.

  • Senator Flake directly addressed the issue of Palestinian membership in UN agencies, citing UNESCO and claiming that the General Assembly had recently granted the Palestinian Authority “full membership.” He asked what measures the Administration would take to ensure denial of funding to other UN agencies that follow suit. Senator Kerry replied that while he does not believe such unilateral actions by the Palestinians are helpful, the U.S. is better able to protect its friends from “nefarious activities” when it is fully engaged with the UN and paying its dues. Senator Kerry did not explicitly call for a waiver that would allow the President to fund UNESCO again, however.

  • Several Senators (Boxer, Shaheen, and Casey) asked Senator Kerry about his support for efforts to empower women and girls around the world. Kerry stated that he would continue to prioritize women’s issues and support the position of Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. He was asked about the National Action Plan on women, peace, and security and his commitment to implementation, which he said he supported. He also spoke about the importance of efforts to ensure further progress on women’s rights in Afghanistan, noting that there are now nine million Afghan children in school, 50% of whom are girls (in stark contrast to Afghanistan under the Taliban, when no girls were in school).

  • Senator Boxer also expressed support for CEDAW, and asked whether Kerry would continue to support its ratification as Secretary of State. He answered in the affirmative, and called for a broader conversation between himself and Committee members on treaty issues.

  • During a lengthy question on an array of foreign policy issues, Senator Rubio took a bit of a shot at the UN, stating that only America (and not the UN or any other organization/country) can marshal the international coalitions necessary to meet the significant challenges we face.


  • In response to a question from Senator Barrasso about the continued threat posed by al-Qaeda, Senator Kerry touted recent advances in Somalia, noting that with U.S. support, al-Shabaab has been driven back and a new government has taken office.


  • During a relatively testy exchange over the NATO military intervention in Libya, Senator Paul asked the nominee whether a UN resolution, rather than an authorization from Congress, is sufficient for the U.S. to go to war. Kerry said that while a Security Council resolution is not sufficient to require the U.S. to do something (since we have to balance that against the requirements of our Constitution), it does provide a legal basis for international military action.