Amid friendly reception, Kerry makes case for Secretary of State

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, before his confirmation hearing to become Secretary of State. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Updated: 12:58 p.m. ET

Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on which he has served for 28 years, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., made his case today to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, delivering heartfelt remarks about his vision for U.S. diplomacy on the world stage to an audience that is expected to overwhelmingly approve of his nomination.

Kerry, who happens to be chairman of the committee, was joined at today's hearing by several family members and was introduced warmly by Clinton, who called him the "right choice" to take her place at the top of the State Department. Also introducing him were fellow Vietnam veteran Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Kerry's colleague from Massachusetts, Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

In his own opening remarks, Kerry spoke urgently about the role the U.S. economy plays in its diplomacy efforts, and stressed that America can't expect the outside world to take its entreaties to reform seriously unless "we show people and the rest of the world that we can get our business done in an effective and timely way."

"I'm particularly aware that in many ways the greatest challenge to America's foreign policy will be in your hands, not mine," Kerry told his colleagues in the Senate. "Because while it's often said that we can't be strong at home if we're not strong in the world, in these days of fiscal crisis, and as a recovering member of the supercommittee, I am especially cognizant of the fact that we can't be strong in the world unless we're strong at home. And the first priority of business, which will affect my credibility as a diplomat working to help other countries create order, the first priority is whether America at last puts its own fiscal house in order."

In the modern era, Kerry argued, "foreign policy is economic policy."

By the same token, Kerry noted his commitment to working with Congress on the foreign affairs budget -- a topic that has taken on increased prominence in the aftermath of recent hearings about Benghazi, Libya, during which Clinton and other State Department officials have pointed to budget shortfalls as part of the underlying reason for security weaknesses abroad.

"It matters that we get this moment right for America and it matters that we get it right for the world," Kerry said, "One discussion that I particularly look forward to beginning with you, my colleagues, and with our country, is about the commitment that we make in our foreign affairs budget - less than one percent of the entire budget of government, at a time when the world is getting smaller, that our economy depends on its relationship with every other country in the world, that we face a more global market than any other time in our history."

Referencing his own father's work in the foreign service, the senator became visibly emotional when speaking about his pride in potentially becoming Secretary of State.

"If you confirm me, I would take office as Secretary proud that the Senate is in my blood - but equally proud that so too is the foreign service," he said. "I wish everyone in the country could see and understand first-hand the devotion, loyalty and amazingly hard, often dangerous work that our diplomats on the front lines do for our nation. Theirs is service which earns our country an enormous return on our investment."

As Kerry neared the end of his prepared opening remarks, he was interrupted by an anti-war protester, who decried war in the Middle East before being escorted out of the building. Despite titters from the audience, however, Kerry maintained a serious tone, using the opportunity to reflect on his first experience testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when he spoke as a veteran in opposition to the Vietnam War in 1971.

"When I first came to Washington and testified, I obviously was testifying as part of as a group of people who came here to have their voices heard," he said. "And that is, above all, what this place is about. So I respect, I think the woman who was voicing her concerns about that part of the world... People measure what we do."

While Kerry is widely expected to sail through the confirmation process, several senators -- including McCain and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. -- picked up on questions about Benghazi from yesterday's hearings with Clinton. Sen. Johnson demanded answers from Kerry about what exactly happened in Libya on September 11, when four Americans were killed in attacks on a U.S. consulate.

Kerry first clarified to Johnson that "if you're trying to get some daylight between me and Secretary Clinton, that's not going to happen here today," before asking Johnson if he had attended a classified briefing on the hearings. Johnson said he had not.

"Well, there was a briefing with tapes, which we all saw, those of us who went to it, which made it crystal clear," Kerry said. "We sat for several hours with our intel folks, who described to us precisely what we were seeing. We saw the events unfold. We had a very complete and detailed description."

Kerry was one of two contenders to replace Clinton as the nation's head diplomat. But U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, the other main candidate for the job, withdrew in December after sustaining prolonged criticism from Senate Republicans for comments she made about the September 11 attacks in Benghazi. Among those leading the criticism was McCain, who today spoke of his longtime personal friendship with Kerry.

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