(Photo: Mandel Ngan, AFP/Getty Images)
David Jackson, USA TODAY
- If confirmed, Kerry would replace Hillary Rodham Clinton
- Kerry has been a pivotal figure in Obama's career
- Susan Rice said last week she would not pursue the post
President Obama has picked Sen. John Kerry for secretary of State, hailing him as an extraordinary lawmaker who has played a central part in every major foreign policy debate of the last 30 years.
Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and decorated Vietnam veteran, if confirmed by his colleagues in the Senate would replace Hillary Rodham Clinton if confirmed by his fellow senators.
"Today, I'm looking ahead to my second term and I'm very proud to announce my choice for America's next secretary of State John Kerry," Obama said. The president added, "Over the years, John has earned the respect and confidence of leaders around the world. He is not going to need a lot of on-the-job training."
Kerry's path to the nomination cleared last week when another candidate -- United Nations ambassador Susan Rice -- announced she would not pursue the secretary of State post.
Kerry, who turned 69 this month, has had lifelong involvement in foreign issues. The son of a foreign service officer, Kerry fought in Vietnam and later became a leader of a veterans' group that opposed the war.
Elected lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in 1982, Kerry won his first U.S. Senate race two years later, and is currently in his fifth term. He secured the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2004, but lost the general election to incumbent President George W. Bush.
During his Senate years, Kerry opposed U.S. assistance to Nicaraguan rebels during the 1980s and criticized the Iraq war during his 2004 presidential bid against Bush.
Since Obama's election, Kerry has worked to improve U.S. relations with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, and spoke with Pakistan leaders after the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden on Pakistani territory.
If confirmed as Secretary of state, Kerry's departure from the Senate sets up what could a pivotal political battle.
Republican Scott Brown, who lost his Massachusetts Senate re-election bid in November to Elizabeth Warren, has expressed interested in running again. Among Democrats being mentioned as a Kerry replacement: Vicki Kennedy, the widow of long-time Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
Over the years, Kerry has also played a key role in Obama's rise to the presidency.
It was Kerry who picked Obama, then a relatively unknown figure on the national stage seeking a U.S. Senate seat, to give the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention. That speech launched Obama's national political career, and Kerry stood in as Mitt Romney during the president's debate preparation earlier this year.
"Of course, nothing brings two people closer together than two weeks of debate prep," Obama joked. "John, I'm looking forward to working with you instead of debating you."
When Obama sought the presidency in 2008, Kerry endorsed him at a key moment -- after Obama lost the New Hampshire primary to Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Obama also considered Rice, a long-time aide, for the secretary of State job.
But Rice pulled out after Senate Republicans had criticized her for comments after the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, setting up the prospect of a tough Senate confirmation fight. In a series of interviews, Rice attributed the attack to a protest of an anti-Islam video that got of hand; officials later called it an organized terrorist attack.
Contributing: Aamer Madhani