But several foreign affairs experts argue that while Kerry’s penmanship may not be on significant pieces of legislation, his imprint and influence on U.S. foreign policy is. Obama tapped Kerry for sensitive diplomatic missions to Pakistan in May 2011, shortly after Osama bin Laden was killed there, and to Afghanistan at times when tensions were running high between Washington, Islamabad and Kabul.
“He’ll be remembered as someone who was very active on foreign policy,” said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “He played a significant role behind the scenes.”
As Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Kerry has embraced the traditional role of “a statesman on several issues,” West said. In the waning years of the Bush administration, Kerry took a leading role in trying to end the Iraq war, often losing by lopsided votes with efforts to tie the U.S. to a withdrawal date.
In 2010, he pressed for ratification of a “New START” nuclear arms treaty with Russia, overcoming fierce Republican resistance by sometimes tossing Senate collegiality and diplomacy-speak aside to accuse Republicans of political foot-dragging on a pact desperately wanted by the Obama administration.
“Kerry has demonstrated that he’s loyal and solid, he’s been a good soldier on several diplomatic assignments that were almost ‘Mission Impossible,’” Inderfurth said.
John Forbes Kerry was born Dec. 11, 1943, in Denver, the son of Rosemary Forbes Kerry, a member of one of Boston’s wealthy upper-class Brahmin families, and Richard Kerry, who served in the U.S. Foreign Service. Growing up, Kerry lived in Berlin and attended a Swiss boarding school. He graduated from Yale University in 1966 and earned a law degree from Boston College in 1976.
During the socially and politically turbulent 1960s when most young men from means used family connections to avoid military service and Vietnam, Kerry joined the Navy in 1966. He became a lieutenant junior grade and commanded a Swift Boat patrol that ran counterinsurgency missions in South Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. He won the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts during his service.
But Kerry grew to oppose the war and became an organizer of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. In 1971, he spoke to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and created a stirred when he tossed of some of his military ribbons – but not his medals – on the Capitol lawn to protest the war.
Despite eschewing talk of entering politics in media interviews, Kerry unsuccessfully ran for the House of Representatives in 1972 and went on to serve as lieutenant governor under Michael Dukakis from 1982 to 1984. He was elected to the Senate in 1984.
Divorced from his first wife, Julia Thorne, in 1988, Kerry married Teresa Heinz, the widow of Rep. John Heinz, R-Pa., in 1995. The marriage to the ketchup fortune heir made Kerry one of Capitol Hill’s wealthiest lawmakers. The congressional publication Roll Call ranked Kerry as the third-richest member of the Senate and House in 2011, worth an estimated $193.07 million.
If approved by his Senate colleagues, Kerry will move from the comforts of Capitol Hill to the spacious seventh-floor secretary’s office in the State Department’s Foggy Bottom building, where he’ll get a different view of an unsettled world: a still-tense Pakistan, a civil war in Syria, a bellicose North Korea, a grumpy Russia, a nuclear-ambitious Iran, the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a rising China.
“John Kerry will no longer have the luxury of issuing a statement and calling for a hearing,” Inderfurth said. “He’ll have to deal with issues in real time.”