President Obama’s nomination of Senator John Kerry (MA-D) to be the next Secretary of State likely paves the way for Senator Robert Menendez (NJ-D) to replace Kerry as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Menendez is currently the third-ranking Democrat on the committee; however, the committee’s second-ranking Democrat, Senator Barbara Boxer (CA-D), already heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and cannot chair two committees.
Senator Kerry, who first came to the Senate in 1985 and has had a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee ever since, became chairman in 2009. Recently, his focus has been on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria, as well as the Sudan. As a decorated Vietnam War veteran and part of a team that worked to normalize U.S. relations with Vietnam, he has a strong familiarity with Southeast Asian affairs. Kerry has also been an active advocate on climate change. With support from colleagues on both sides of the aisle, he is expected to be confirmed easily.
Senator Menendez has served in the Senate since 2006, and before that, spent 12 years in the House of Representatives, where he chaired the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, and Global Narcotics Affairs. A strong supporter of President Obama in most foreign policy areas, his views diverge from the President’s on issues relating to Iran and Cuba. He favors tightening sanctions on Iran and maintaining the 50-year trade embargo against Cuba ― an issue that is personal to Menendez because his parents immigrated from Havana in 1953.
An array of foreign policy challenges face both Kerry and Menendez should they ascend to their new positions. At the top of the list are the debate over U.S. intervention in Syria, the Israel–Palestine conflict, foreign aid to Egypt, and the U.S. alliance with Pakistan. International Debates will follow these and other major foreign policy issues in the new Congress.