The Cable

Kerry prepares for confirmation hearing as Democrats increase their SFRC majority

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), President Obama's choice to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, has begun preparing to testify before the committee he currently chairs, as Democrats on the committee increase their majority ahead of the nominee's confirmation hearings.

For now, Kerry remains the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Clinton is expected to return to the State Department next week following a stomach virus, a concussion, and a blood clot in her brain. Multiple GOP senators have said they won't vote on Kerry's nomination until Clinton is able to fulfill her promise to testify before the committee on the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.

Clinton's testimony -- and Kerry's confirmation hearing -- aren't likely before Obama's inauguration Jan. 21, because the Senate will be in recess next week and the week after. But in the meantime, Kerry has begun preparing for his testimony by spending time at the State Department receiving briefings, including all day Wednesday. Kerry was also spotted visiting the White House Dec. 28.

"We have a well-practiced procedure for preparing new secretaries for confirmation hearings," State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday. "The senator was in the building yesterday. He had a number of meetings with senior staff, has received a huge file of briefing materials. He is not in the building today. My understanding is he's up at the Senate today, but we expect he'll be back in the building on a regular basis starting tomorrow."

Kerry won't be able to preside over his own confirmation hearing, although his current staff will be the ones vetting their once and perhaps future boss. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) is the next highest-ranking senator on the committee, but most expect Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) to take over as chairman if and when Kerry is confirmed.

Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) has retired and Sen. Dick Durbin (R-IL) has departed the committee; in his place there will be two freshman Democrat additions: Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Tim Kaine (D-VA). Webb proved influential as the chairman of the Asia subcommittee, but his replacement in that post has not yet been decided.

The balance of the SRFC will now be 10 Democrats and 8 Republicans. In the last Congress, the ratio was 10 to 9.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Cable

SFRC gets four new Republicans

The GOP side of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will be drastically altered in the new Congress that began today, with four new members on the minority side led by Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the new ranking Republican.

Corker takes over for Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), and he will have a roster of Republican members on the committee that is diverse and powerful. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) joins the committee for the first time. McCain is no longer the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, due to term limits, but remains on SASC as a rank and file member. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the new ranking Republican on SASC, relinquished his SFRC seat to make room for McCain.

Three active SFRC Republicans have left the committee. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) resigned to take over the helm of the Heritage Foundation. DeMint had been the ranking Republican on the international organizations subcommittee. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), the committee's ranking Republican on the Africa subcommittee, also will not return to SFRC. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who has been a vocal critic of the State Department's handling of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, has also left the committee.

Replacing them will be Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Rand Paul (R-KY), and newly minted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Paul has been a thorn in the State Department's side since he came to the Senate, pushing for drastic cuts in U.S. foreign aid and holding up several State Department nominees. His new SFRC perch will allow him to ramp up those activities.

Paul is also one of the two potential 2016 presidential contenders now on the committee, along with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who will retain his post as ranking Republican on the Western Hemisphere subcommittee and is sure want to increase his profile on foreign policy in preparation for a run at the White House.

Corker has repeatedly pledged to work to return the SFRC to a position of relevance by increasing its oversight of the State Department and completing a State Department authorization bill for the first time in several years. Several aides said Corker has been hiring minority committee staff at a steady pace under the leadership of Les Munson, previously chief of staff to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).

But Corker faces a GOP membership that will be decidedly split between hawks such as McCain and Rubio on one side, and isolationists like Paul, Johnson, and Flake on the other.

"It's a fascinating dynamics set," one senior GOP Senate aide said. "Corker is going to have his hands full."