Senator John Kerry and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzain in Kabul in 2009.
The Washington Post reports that President Obama has nominated Massachusetts Senator John Kerry to be the next Secretary of State. This doesn’t come as a surprise; he was on the short list behind Hillary Clinton, and has been a stalwart defender of the administration’s foreign policy choices over the last four years. Clinton is a hard act to follow, but there’s little doubt Kerry will perform well in the position.
If there’s a problem, it’s that Kerry’s departure from the Senate leaves an open seat in Massachusetts, and as it happens, there’s a former Republican senator—Scott Brown—itching to get back into the game. It helps that he’s still well liked by most Massachusetts voters; a recent poll from MassINC Polling Group shows Brown with high favorability—58 percent, compared to 28 percent who view him unfavorably.
The New York Times’ Nate Silver isn’t so sure that Brown is a shoe-in for the spot. After all, he notes, Brown “is a Republican in Massachusetts who lost an election by a reasonably clear margin just last month.” Regardless, Obama’s decision to choose Kerry for State—despite the presence of other, qualified candidates—has a decent chance of leading to a smaller Democratic majority in the Senate, which in turns, means less room for legislative manuevering, and a greater likelihood of substantive concessions to Republican priorities. To say nothing of the Kerry’s institutional knowledge, and ability to use Senate rules to their fullest.
In terms of actual political gain, it’s not clear what Obama gets from bringing Kerry into the administration, rather than keeping him in the Senate.
Then again, this isn’t the first time that Obama has harmed the legislative standing of the Democratic Party for the sake of his cabinet—Janet Napolitano and Kathleen Sebelius were tapped to lead Homeland Security and Health and Human Services, respectively, despite the fact that both could have stood as strong candidates for office in their respective states.
Barack Obama has a whole host of valuable political skills. But when it comes to overall political strategy, he could use a little work.