Rep. Berman rumored for secretary of State job after losing California seat

The list of rumored replacements for secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a new name following Rep. Howard Berman's (D-Calif.) defeat Tuesday night.

Berman, a 15-term lawmaker who lost his reelection bid in California's redrawn 30th Congressional District, is drawing support from an array of lawmakers — including the Democrat who beat him, Rep. Brad Sherman. 

“I have tremendous respect for the talent and experience of Howard Berman,” Sherman, who defeated Berman in a bruising intra-party fight, told The Hill via email. “I think he would do an excellent job at any top level foreign policy position that the President might ask him to undertake.”

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who is running against Sherman to take over from Berman as the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also endorsed him.

"I think that Howard Berman was a magnificent chair [of the committee], a magnificent ranking Democrat, and I think he'd be a magnificent secretary of State," Engel told The Hill. 

"And if the president asked me I would certainly give Howard my wholehearted support and recommendation." He said Berman had widely traveled and had many friends among foreign leaders, along with an even temper well-suited for the job.

The Los Angeles Times was the first news outlet to float the California congressman's name after he lost reelection. 

The 15-term congressman has served as both chairman and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and has worked closely with the administration on Iran sanctions and other high-profile issues, the paper noted, while also keeping a low-key demeanor favored by President Obama.

Berman, who is Jewish, could also be a good choice to repair relations with Israel and restart negotiations on a two-state solution with the Palestinians. Those talks have largely stalled since 2009 over the issue of Israeli settlements and borders.

“Berman would be particularly valuable if Obama decides to revive the Middle East peace process,” New York's Jewish Week newspaper opined Wednesday. “The congressman has the confidence of the Jewish community, Israelis and many leaders in the region.”

He also has friends in both parties on Capitol Hill, making a potential confirmation by the Senate all but certain. Berman was endorsed in his race against Sherman by California's two senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. He was also endorsed by a trio of Senate hawks: Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Lieberman, who is retiring, urged Obama to give Berman a role during his second term.

“Although Howard's time in the House of Representatives is unfortunately now ending, he leaves behind an unmatched record of accomplishment,” Lieberman told The Hill in an emailed statement, “and I hope the next Administration finds ways to make use of his unique talents in our nation's service.”

Engel said an added benefit of having Berman as secretary of State would be to show the president's appreciation for the House of Representatives. Democratic members helped pass the president's first-term priorities but sometimes feel they don't get the respect awarded their Senate colleagues — despite often having a deeper understanding of the issues by virtue of serving on fewer committees.

Nominating Berman "would send a message to House Democrats that we are not superfluous, that we have a lot of good talent in the House," Engel said. "That would be the frosting on the cake."

He said he's heard from several friends in Los Angeles that Berman could be on the short-list.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an Obama surrogate during the campaign, remains the odds-on favorite to get the spot. 

Obama could have second thoughts, though, following Elizabeth Warren's win Tuesday over Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), because Brown could be a strong candidate to win Kerry's Senate seat in a special election. That scenario would cut into the Democrats' 55-45 Senate majority in the next Congress.

The other candidates most often mentioned for the secretary of State's post also have liabilities.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, provoked the ire of Republicans when she said the Sept. 11 attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya was sparked by a anti-Islam video. Some critics also blame her for the administration's failure to overcome Russian and Chinese opposition to tougher sanctions against Syria at the U.N.

And Thomas Donilon, Obama's national security adviser, has been singled out by some Republicans as the likely source of national security leaks that dogged the administration during the election.

Clinton has said she will stay in office long enough to ensure a smooth transition to her successor, which could take her into next year.

The State Department on Wednesday, however, shot down rumors that she could stay on for another four-year term following Obama's reelection.

“I don't think the Secretary's plans have changed,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at her press briefing. “You've heard her say many times that she intends to see through a transition of a successor and then she will go back to private life and enjoy some rest, and think and write and all those things.”

— This story was updated at 6:40 p.m.