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Longtime senator Kerry to face friendly hearing on way to confirmation as next secretary of State

| Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 8:42 p.m.

John Kerry's chances of confirmation to be the next secretary of State are so good that some Senate Republicans are joking about it.

“We will look forward to interrogating him at his hearing (Thursday) — mercilessly,” mocked Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “We will bring back — for the only time — waterboarding, to get the truth out of him.”

McCain is a frequent critic of President Obama's foreign policy, but he has had kind words for the nomination of Kerry to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton, as have other Republicans.

In fact, McCain will help formally “introduce” Kerry to the Foreign Relations Committee at the start of the hearing. So will Clinton.

Not that Kerry needs much of an introduction. A senator for nearly three decades, Kerry is the committee chairman, and his office provided public notice of Thursday's proceedings, including the fact that the gavel will be wielded by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of The Cook Political Report, said Kerry's reception is in marked contrast to some of Obama's other current nominees, such as Defense Secretary-designate Chuck Hagel.

“You don't hear a lot of Republican opposition” to Kerry, Duffy said. “I think it's going to be pretty smooth sailing.”

Still, Kerry will probably get some tough questions from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

After all, the hearing comes a day after the same committee grilled Clinton over the attack Sept. 11 on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Kerry may be asked questions about security at U.S. embassies, as well as shifting stories about what happened at Benghazi that the Obama administration provided immediately after the attack.

Other possible questions: Kerry's past outreach to Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is battling rebel forces in his country; the prospect of possible force against Iran over its nuclear program; fallout from the Arab Spring; the Israeli-Palestinian peace process; and strained U.S.-Russian relations.

Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, who is heir to the Heinz ketchup fortune, have agreed to give up nearly 100 investments in U.S. and foreign companies within 90 days of his becoming secretary of State to avoid possible conflicts of interest.

Obama nominated Kerry after another secretary of State candidate, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, pulled out of contention. McCain and other Republicans had criticized Rice over her comments about the Benghazi attack.

During the Rice dispute, McCain and other Republican senators made no secret of their admiration for colleague Kerry.

In nominating Kerry on Dec. 21, Obama lauded his Senate experience on issues ranging from U.S. recognition of Vietnam to arms reduction agreements with Russia.

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