John Kerry poised to clear first confirmation hurdle for secretary of state post

President Barack Obama announces Senator John Kerry as his choice for the next secretary of state on December 21, 2012 in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC. Getty Images

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., today appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing to be the next Secretary of State, a hearing that isn't expected to feature many fireworks. (Incidentally, Kerry is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee; Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., will preside over the hearing in his place.)

Kerry will be introduced at the hearing by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, fellow Vietnam veteran and Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.., and Kerry's colleague, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

The hearing is not likely to be contentious; he is expected to clear the committee today and the full Senate shortly thereafter. However, there remains the possibility he could receive tough questions from some Republicans on the committee on issues such as his post-Vietnam protests, government spending on foreign aid and his philosophy about America's role abroad.

Kerry, who has served in the Senate since 1985, was nominated by President Obama to replace outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. For weeks prior to the announcement of his nomination in December, he and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, were reportedly the president's top two choices for the slot. Rice was harshly criticized by Republicans for her reaction to the Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, and she eventually withdrew her name from consideration for the post. (Clinton testified before the Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday on Benghazi; Kerry recused himself from the hearing.)

To prepare for the post, Kerry and his wife Theresa Heinz Kerry have divested nearly 100 investments that could be considered conflicts of interest, the Boston Globe reports. They have sold their shares in ExxonMobil, Cenovus Energy, which has stake in the Keystone XL pipeline, and other national and international companies. 

After he's confirmed by the full Senate, Kerry will have to resign his Senate seat, putting into motion a two-step process to replace him. First, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, will announce a special election date that, by law, must happen 145 to 160 days after Kerry resigns. Second, Patrick will appoint a temporary replacement, who will hold the seat until the special election. 

Even though the election date hasn't been set, the race to replace Kerry is already underway. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., has announced his intention to run, has already hired staff and fundraisers and has locked up the endorsements of some of the biggest names in Massachusetts politics, including Vicki Kennedy, the wife of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. Former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., who lost a reelection bid in November to Elizabeth Warren, is considered a potential Republican candidate.

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    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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