U.S. Senator John Kerry, D-Mass., can now add secretary of state to his resume, having been sworn in at 4 p.m. Friday in a private ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.
The location of the ceremony was a secret closely guarded by the State Department, and reporters were not allowed to attend. Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Elena Kagan swore in the 68th secretary of state after Kerry had requested that she preside over the ceremony. Kagan and Kerry became friendly during her years as dean of Harvard Law School in Kerry’s home state of Massachusetts, a State Department official said. Kerry was confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday following a tame hearing and bipartisan support.
Less than two hours before Secretary of State Kerry was sworn in, the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made her way out of her office at Foggy Bottom to say farewell to State Department staff.
The setting for Clinton’s parting remarks was remarkably similar to the scene upon her arrival in January of 2009. Hundreds of staff members, joined by a hoard of reporters, filled the C-Street lobby at the State Department. The crowd started filing in more than an hour before Clinton’s arrival. Clinton stood on the same landing of the same staircase to deliver her remarks.
Clinton left as she had entered in 2009, shaking hands and sharing a few words with employees, although there were far fewer camera phones four years ago.
Much of the difference in the coming and going of Clinton lay in the appearance and words of the secretary herself.
On Friday Clinton sported her thick rimmed glasses with the distinctive corrective lenses that have become familiar following her concussion in December and the subsequent blood clot in her head. Her medical problems, paired with the Sept. 11, 2012, assassination of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in Benghazi, Libya, dominated the end of her tenure.
Four years ago Clinton was spec-less, with much shorter hair, looking far younger than she does today.
At both events copious applause and cheering filled the lobby.
Clinton touched on similar themes as she had in 2009, emphasizing the need to return the agency to its previous position as a critical part of the U.S. national security infrastructure.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done to elevate diplomacy and development, to serve the nation we all love, to understand the challenges, the threats, and the opportunities that the United States faces, and to work with all our heart and all of our might to make sure that America is secure, that our interests are promoted, and our values are respected,” Clinton said Feb. 1.
But a reminder of how conditions have changed in the last four years arrived the morning of the leadership transition, as news broke of a suicide bombing attack on the U.S. embassy in Ankara, Turkey.
State department officials reported that a single bomber, wearing a vest filled with explosives, had approached one of the two rear entrances into the embassy compound and detonated his vest, killing a security officer. Two officers in the same security outpost, on the other side of a bulletproof glass barrier, were also injured, and a reporter was said to be in critical condition as of Friday afternoon.
Possibly having learned from the furor that surrounded confusing reports about the attackers in Benghazi, State would not immediately affix blame to any group, instead directing reporters to comments from Turkish Ministry of the Interior that blamed an “outlawed leftist organization.”
Clinton referenced the attack in her farewell remarks.
“Of course, we live in very complex and even dangerous times, as we saw again just today at our embassy in Ankara, where we were attacked and lost one of our Foreign Service nationals and others injured,” she said. “But I spoke with the Ambassador and the team there, I spoke with my Turkish counterpart, and I told them how much we valued their commitment and their sacrifice. I know that the world we are trying to help bring into being in the 21st century will have many difficult days, but I am more optimistic today than I was when I stood here four years ago, because I have seen, day after day, the many contributions that our diplomats and development experts are making to help ensure that this century provides the kind of peace, progress, and prosperity that not just the United States, but the entire world — especially young people — so richly deserve. I am very proud to have been secretary of state.”
While the attack did not precisely mirror those in Benghazi, it was a reminder of the increased security threats that the State Department is confronting, and the need to update facilities. The Accountability Review Board report on the incident in Benghazi emphasized the need to give funding to the agency for an aggressive building program that could help alleviate some of the security risk at a variety of facilities.
Agency spokeswoman Victoria Nuland emphasized that Ankara is a target for immediate construction, given that the existing embassy building is a 1950’s structure that doesn’t meet modern needs.
“I think you’ll recall that in the context of a lot of the testimony that was done after Benghazi, we made clear that as we’re currently budgeted, we’re only able to build three new embassies a year; that if we are fully funded, as we are requesting going forward, that will allow us to put 10 a year on the rebuilding list,” Nuland said. “And Ankara would be one that would benefit quickly.”
In the case of Ankara, the fact the security buildings are placed at the edge of the compound away from the main building likely saved lives.
Clinton spent much of the week leading up to her departure giving exit interviews to various media outlets, and inevitably the topic returned repeatedly to Benghazi.
On Tuesday, as part of a “townhall” event at the Newseum, Clinton was asked what her greatest regret was about her tenure. The questioner mentioned Madeleine Albright’s famous comments about her regret regarding the genocide in Rwanda.
“Well, certainly, the loss of American lives in Benghazi was something that I deeply regret and am working hard to make sure we do everything we can to prevent,” Clinton responded.
On Friday, however, the AP published a report with a more combative response from Clinton. She said that those who have criticized the agency for the attacks don’t live in an “evidence-based world.”
Clinton sent her resignation letter to President Barack Obama earlier in the day, set to take effect upon the completion of Kerry’s swearing in ceremony. The note included a thank you to the president.
“On a personal note, it has been a pleasure to work with you and your team,” it read. “Thank you, Mr. President, for your friendship, and for the opportunity to serve in your Cabinet.”
The pageantry in the C-Street lobby is likely to repeat itself Monday morning, when Kerry makes his way to Foggy Bottom for the first time in his new role. Should any matters of significance occur over the weekend, Kerry is in charge, but he is not scheduled to spend time at the building.