President Obama picked Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to be his new secretary of State a week before Susan Rice withdrew from consideration, Kerry told The Boston Globe.
Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a close Obama ally, was widely viewed as having been the president's first choice to replace Hillary Clinton, but withdrew from consideration amid withering Republican criticism of her statements linking the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi to a protest.
Kerry's comments to his home-state newspaper appear to be aimed at dispelling the impression that he wasn't Obama's first choice as he prepares to be sworn in Friday afternoon.
“He called me, actually a week before Susan got out of the thing,” Kerry told the Globe. “He called me and said, 'You're my choice. I want you to do this.' He asked me to keep it quiet. I did. I sat on it.”
At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney refused to confirm Kerry's account - while hinting that is was possible Obama had not yet fully committed to the senator's nomination at the time Rice pulled out of consideration.
"The president, when he makes a decision, announces it," Carney said
But Carney refused to provide any details on conversations between the president and Kerry, and emphasized that Obama was "enormously gratified that he was confirmed."
He said some of his first priorities when he starts his new job Monday morning include making sure U.S. missions around the world are safe in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya. And he promised a “major meeting on Syria in the next few days.”
“There are certain things I intend to issue instructions on the minute I come in,” Kerry said. “I won’t go into the details, but Benghazi, embassy security, issues regarding some of the analysis that I want to track with respect to Iran, with respect to Syria. Trouble spots.”
Kerry will be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan at 4 p.m. Friday in a private ceremony at an undisclosed location. Clinton will bid farewell to her staff at the State Department at 2:30 p.m.
Justin Sink contributed