Kerry: Clinton set ‘high mark’ during tenure at State Department

The remarks come a day after Clinton faced sharp Republican questions about her agency's failures before the Sept. 11, 2012, attack that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

Clinton was on hand at Thursday’s hearing to introduce Kerry, who is expected to sail through a confirmation vote early next week and join President Obama’s Cabinet. She called Kerry “the right choice," someone who has built relations with foreign leaders around the world, and recalled phoning Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to delay votes so Kerry could remain in Afghanistan and continue negotiations with President Hamid Karzai.

“The State Department and USAID [the U.S. Agency for International Development] have a lot of unfinished business, from Afghanistan to non-proliferation to climate change,” Clinton said.

In contrast to Wednesday's tense session with Clinton, there was a collegial atmosphere in the hearing room for Kerry, who is testifying before a committee of which he is chairman.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) reminisced about working with Kerry on missing prisoners of war and helping renew ties with Vietnam. Other senators likewise offered kind words.

Kerry vowed to meet with all his former colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in order to build bipartisan support for the State Department's efforts to increase U.S. influence around the world. The first order of business, he said, is for Congress to deal with the economy and the national debt.

“We can’t be strong in the world unless we are strong at home — and the first priority of business, which will affect my credibility as a diplomat working to help other countries create order, is whether America at last puts its own fiscal house in order,” he said.

“My plea is that we can summon across party lines, without partisan diversions, an economic patriotism which recognizes that American strength and prospects abroad depend on American strength and results at home. It is hard to tell the leadership of any number of countries they must get their economic issues resolved if we don't resolve our own.”

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