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November 28, 2012

Kerry stays quiet as Cabinet speculation swirls

WASHINGTON — Sen. John Kerry is angling to be the nation’s top diplomat by being, well, diplomatic.

The longtime Democratic lawmaker from Massachusetts has largely stayed quiet while President Barack Obama considers him for the next secretary of state. Kerry has asked his supporters to avoid overt lobbying of the White House on his behalf. And he’s defended his chief rival for the post, Susan Rice, amid Republican criticism of her initial explanation of the attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

Kerry’s strategy reflects what people close to the senator say is his disdain for some aspects of Washington’s personnel politics. But it also underscores his awkward role in the process. If Obama taps Rice for the job Kerry covets, the senator would have to shepherd her difficult nomination through the foreign relations committee he chairs.

White House officials say Obama is still mulling over his pick to replace outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, though a decision is expected soon. Rice, who has a close relationship with the president, is widely viewed as the favorite. But Kerry’s stock may be rising as GOP lawmakers threaten to hold up Rice’s confirmation until they’re satisfied with her answers about the early public statements about the Benghazi attack.

But don’t expect Kerry or his allies to make his case to Obama as the president nears a decision, as is standard practice for people who are on a short list for a new job. People close to the senator say he finds back-room lobbying for top jobs irritating and counterproductive. That view, they say, is shaped from his experience on both sides of the process: as a contender for previous high-level jobs and as the one making the decision in 2004, when he tapped John Edwards as his running mate during his presidential bid.

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