By Julian Pecquet - 02/04/13 03:05 PM EST
John Kerry began his tenure as secretary of State on Monday with an impassioned defense of Hillary Clinton and her handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi, Libya.
The department has come under withering criticism from Republicans on Capitol Hill following the September attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, whom Kerry honored by name.
“I pledge to you this: I will not let their patriotism and their bravery be obscured by politics,” Kerry said to sustained applause.
“And I guarantee you that beginning this morning when I report to duty upstairs, everything I do will be focused on the security and safety of our people. We have tough decisions to make, but I guarantee you that I will do everything I can to live up to the high standards that Secretary Clinton and her team put in place.”
He went on to reassure his new employees that he was one of them. Kerry said he had the diplomatic service “in my genes” and recalled that he got his first diplomatic passport when he was 11 years old, as the son of a Foreign Service officer.
Kerry recalled riding his bicycle into East Berlin in the 1950s — he got grounded as a result — and learning a lifelong lesson about the U.S. values that the State Department seeks to spread around the world.
“Here we can do the best of things that you can do in government. That's what excites me,” he said.
“We get to try to make our nation safer. We get to try to make peace in the world ... We get to lift people out of poverty. We get to try to cure disease. We get to try to empower people with human rights. We get to speak [for] those who have no voice.”
“We get to talk about empowering people through our ideals, and through those ideals hopefully they can change their lives.”
Kerry was sworn in Friday afternoon as the 68th secretary of State by Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan in a private ceremony.