Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) will not chair Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's hearing on the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, which is expected to take place next week.
Kerry is in the unique position of being the chairman of the committee before which he will testify as part of his confirmation process to replace Clinton in Foggy Bottom. Although no final dates have been confirmed, Clinton is expected to testify on Benghazi Jan. 22, and Kerry's confirmation hearing is expected to happen as soon as Jan. 23. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Kerry's presumptive successor as SFRC chairman, is expected to chair both hearings.
"Kerry will not preside over the Benghazi hearing because he doesn't want to put his colleagues in an awkward situation. Also, he already presided over a Benghazi hearing last month," a committee aide told The Cable. "Senator Kerry will remain SFRC chair until he is confirmed."
Committee sources told The Cable that Kerry's decision not to resign as committee chair before he is confirmed is based on two calculations. First of all, he doesn't want to appear presumptive, just in case he is not confirmed, although he is widely expected to sail through. Secondly, if for some reason he is not confirmed, Kerry would want to retain his committee chairmanship as a fallback plan.
The musical chairs at SFRC have become a complicated dance for the committee staff, some of whom are helping Kerry to prepare for his hearing and some of whom are helping the rest of the committee prepare to vet Kerry. The State Department is also prepping Kerry for his hearing, and the nominee has been spending a lot of time at the State Department for briefings, but his staff is leading the preparations. Menendez's staff is assisting in the preparation for the Kerry hearing as well, committee sources said.
SFRC ranking Republican Bob Corker (R-TN) said last week he thinks the Clinton hearing will take place on Jan. 22.
"I had some very good conversations with her chief of staff," Corker told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Jan. 8. "My sense is, Andrea, that her hearing probably will take place the morning of the 22nd... I think they feel she's going to be healthy enough to come in that day."
Clinton is preparing for the hearing now. "The secretary is going through all the steps this department is taking to implement the recommendations of the Accountability Review Board," State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said today.
Over at State, speculation abounds about who Kerry may or may not bring with him if and when he moves over to State. The conventional wisdom is that many officials close to Clinton will depart, but some of them may stay, meaning that Kerry might not bring in as many of his own people as Clinton did back in 2009.
There's also concern that the White House might try to populate State with current and former NSC officials as a bid to assert more control over State. Clinton had secured 100 percent control over personnel assignments as part of her deal with President Barack Obama when she accepted the secretary of state job. Kerry has no such arrangement.
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John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.