WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Friday will nominate Sen. John Kerry as his next secretary of state, a senior administration official said, making the first move in an overhaul of his national security team heading into a second term.
If confirmed, Kerry would take the helm at the State Department from outgoing Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has long stated her intention to leave early next year. Kerry, a longtime Massachusetts senator, is expected to be easily approved for the Cabinet post by his Capitol Hill colleagues.
That would open up the Senate seat Kerry has held for nearly three decades. Recently defeated Republican Sen. Scott Brown might contest it.
Obama will announce Kerry's nomination from the White House Friday afternoon, said the official, who requested anonymity to discuss the president's decision before the announcement. Clinton was not expected to attend. The secretary fell and suffered a concussion last week, State Department officials said, and hasn't made public appearances since.
Word about Kerry's nomination — Washington's latest worst-kept secret — came at a somber and unusual time, with both the president and Kerry attending a memorial service for Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. At the same time, leaders of the nation's divided government were in utter limbo about how to head off the "fiscal cliff" looming Jan. 1.
Kerry's nomination could bring to a close what has become for the White House a contentious and distracting effort to find a new secretary of state.
Kerry was the Democratic nominee for president in 2004, losing a close election to incumbent George W. Bush. He's a decorated Vietnam veteran who was critical of the war when he returned to the U.S., even testifying in front of the Senate committee he eventually chaired.
Kerry's only other rival for the job, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, faced harsh criticism from congressional Republicans for her initial accounting of the deadly September attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya. Obama vigorously defended Rice, a close friend and longtime adviser, but GOP senators dug in, threatening to hold up her nomination if the president tapped her for the post.
Rice withdrew her name from consideration last week, making Kerry all but certain to become the nominee. People familiar with the White House's decision-making said support within the administration was moving toward Kerry even before Rice pulled out.
The Cabinet nomination of Kerry, 69, is the first Obama has made since winning a second term, and the first piece in an extensive shuffle of his national security team. The president is also expected to nominate a new defense secretary soon to take over for retiring Leon Panetta and a new director of the Central Intelligence Agency to replace former spy chief David Petreaus, who resigned last month after admitting to an affair with his biographer.
The White House had hoped to introduce Obama's national security team in a package announcement. But those plans were scrapped as the fiscal cliff negotiations consumed the administration and questions arose about the front-runner for the Pentagon post, former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Hagel has been dogged by questions about his support for Israel and where he stands on gay rights, with critics calling on him to repudiate a comment in 1998 that a former ambassadorial nominee was "openly, aggressively gay."