For Secretary of State, G.O.P. Pushes Old Hand

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WASHINGTON -- As President Obama's potential nominee for secretary of state, Susan E. Rice, comes under increasing fire, Congressional Republicans appear to be coalescing around a familiar name as an alternative candidate: their current colleague and former presidential foe, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Gone are the criticisms of Mr. Kerry as a waffler who tried to have it both ways on the Iraq war and the caricature of him as a windsurfing symbol of privileged East Coast liberalism. Instead, Mr. Kerry, a Democrat, is depicted as a deeply knowledgeable statesman who would breeze through confirmation on his way to Foggy Bottom.

"I think he would do a great job," gushed Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska. "Anyone who has worked with Senator Kerry knows his good, hard work ethic and his expertise on foreign relations." Ms. Rice, the United Nations ambassador, she added, "would face a lot of questions."

Led by Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Republicans have pummeled Ms. Rice with a steady barrage of attacks over the Sept. 11 events in Benghazi, Libya, in which AmbassadorJ. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

On Wednesday, Senator Susan Collins, the centrist Republican from Maine, piled on, saying after a meeting with Ms. Rice that she "would need to have additional information" before she could support Ms. Rice for secretary of state. Mr. Kerry, she added, "would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues."

Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, speaking of Ms. Rice, said: "I think there are other good choices for secretary of state, better choices probably. I think Senator Kerry is one of them. He would have an easy time here."

The Kerry boomlet adds another level of intrigue to the uproar surrounding Ms. Rice and has real implications for the balance of power on Capitol Hill. If Mr. Kerry were nominated and confirmed, it could open the door to a return via special election of Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who was defeated this month by Elizabeth Warren. A Brown victory -- which is far from certain -- could cut the Democratic margin by one and restore to office a man who was popular with his Republican colleagues.

Mr. Brown met such talk with the frosty retort of a man recently beaten, and perhaps none too excited to endure a third election in three years in a state where his prospects will always remain uphill.

"There's no opening," he said as he made his way down an escalator on Thursday. "There's an opening for a dad right now, and I'm going to do that. I don't deal in hypotheticals."

But that has not stopped his colleagues from throwing his hat into the hypothetical ring. "Yes, he should run again!" said Senator-elect Jeff Flake of Arizona, flashing a smile. "I'm not saying that's why I would support John Kerry's nomination, but we always want more Republicans around here." Ms. Murkowski said she, too, would like to see Mr. Brown run again. Ms. Collins campaigned heavily for Mr. Brown in his failed re-election bid, and was crushed by his loss.

 The situation has become a bit awkward for Mr. Kerry, who cannot be seen as lending anything but support for Ms. Rice even though his desire for the diplomatic job is well known. Mr. Kerry has made a steady practice of dodging reporters all week, taking secret byways from the Senate floor and attending meetings to avoid the inevitable questions, and focusing deeply on a defense bill that is winding its way through the floor.

In a twist that only the byzantine politics of the Senate could produce, Mr. Kerry appears to have more unqualified support from Republicans than his own partymates, many of whom believe that Ms. Rice has been treated unfairly and may prefer to see her sent for confirmation hearings almost as an act of defiance.

"I think people around here have mixed feelings," said Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota. "There is a great respect and admiration for John. There is a deep loyalty to John. But I also think there is a feeling that Susan Rice has been unfairly treated." What is more, he said, "People obviously don't want to lose John's seat."

But while Democrats fear Mr. Brown in a year without Mr. Obama on the ticket, Republicans say their roasting of Ms. Rice is not a plot to bolster their departing colleague. They say Mr. Kerry has won their respect and that it is his foreign policy chops that give him an edge with them.

"He knows the issues," said Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, which Mr. Kerry leads. "He knows people around the world, and as we say in Wyoming, he won't be buffaloed. I would support him."

Mr. Kerry has worked on a variety of issues over the years with colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Even his sometimes foe Mr. McCain was his partner in the early 1990s, serving together on a committee charged with the delicate task of investigating the fates of the last prisoners of war.

Many Republicans this week concurred with Democrats that the president ultimately should choose his nominee, who should be granted a fair Congressional hearing. Some pointed out that Ms. Rice and Mr. Kerry were not the only options.

"How about Senator Joe Lieberman?" said Senator John Hoeven, Republican of North Dakota, about the retiring Connecticut independent who has often found fault with Mr. Obama's foreign policy. "What a fabulous choice he would be!"

nation

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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