Remarks by John Kerry at the Ceremonial Swearing-In Ceremony

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–February 6, 2013.

Thank you. Mr. Vice President, thank you for an unbelievably generous, warm Oath of Office and your comments before them. I want to share with all of you that as a recovering politician – (laughter) – I’ve grown used to being sworn at; it’s really nice to be sworn in. (Laughter and applause.)

I will say more about the Vice President in a moment, but I want to say thank you to my colleagues from the Senate, past and present, who are here today. I am so honored by their presence. Senator Lugar, who was my chairman and ranking member for so long and kept that committee rolling, thank you, sir, for your service. (Applause.)

John McCain, who was a part of a very special journey to try to make peace with Vietnam, which we did, and it’s such an honor to travel with him and be part of his life. And I appreciate it very much. (Applause.)

And Tom Harkin and John Breaux and Barbara Boxer; Max Cleland, my brother-in-arms who’s traveled with me on many parts of this journey; Bob Corker; Sheldon Whitehouse; Jeanne Shaheen; Chris Coons; Rob Portman, whom I’ve grown to really get to know pretty well in the Senate, and he’s a man who dares to cross the aisle and make things happen. I’m grateful for that. And Tim Kaine and Elizabeth Warren, two people I won’t get to serve with as a senator, but I’m so happy you’re on the committee and you’re part of the team in that sense.

And I want to likewise welcome my colleagues from the House. I’m particularly grateful for Bill Delahunt, a longtime friend, for being here, and Ed Markey, Bill Keating, and Joe Kennedy III, and you honor me by being here. Thank you.

I also want to thank my friend Tom Donilon for being here. He’s a great steward of our foreign policy. And together with Tony Blinken, his new deputy, these are people I have had the privilege of working with before, and I am so confident about where we’re heading in this partnership, and I’m grateful to you for coming over here and being part of this.

And a bunch of former staffers who are all working at the White House now – (laughter) – for a fellow called the President of the United States. But I’m truly proud of them and grateful for their enduring friendship.

Over the last few days – oh, one other person I wanted to mention. I didn’t know for sure he was going to be here. We were on the same soccer team, hockey team, lacrosse team. He was a captain of a bunch of them and incredible athlete, a United States Marine Corps veteran, decorated from Vietnam. And he has served with such incredible distinction as the head of the FBI. And Bobby, thank you. Bobby Mueller, thanks for coming. I appreciate it. (Applause.) He used to kick my butt in all three sports. (Laughter.)

Over the last few days, I’ve had the privilege of meeting with a number of Thomas Jefferson’s successors: Secretary Clinton, who has been so generous in welcoming me here and helping to create a seamless transition; Secretary Rice; Secretary Powell; Secretary Baker, who visited with me here yesterday; Secretary Shultz, who I had a great luncheon with on Saturday; and Secretary Kissinger, who has spent a number of hours with me and who wrote a note today. He’s away, out of country. But I’m delighted to have their counsel, and I’ve learned quickly how available and ready they all are to help to continue to steer the ship of State. It’s a wonderful thing about this particular office and this place.

And I’m so honored that my friend, former Secretary Madeleine Albright, is able to be here today. Will you join me in welcoming her and saying thank you to all of the Secretaries of State? Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you.

And I’m very, very grateful to deputy secretaries of this Department: Bill Burns, one of our great veterans of diplomacy; and Deputy Secretary Tom Nides, who’s done an extraordinary job. Together they’ve been one heck of a team. And I want to thank them for their warm welcome to this Department, their wise counsel. And I thank the many under secretaries and assistant secretaries who are here and who’ve been part of my early meetings. I think we’ve had three days now of some terrific meetings, and I want you to know I consider myself lucky to be on your team. Thank you for all that you do. (Applause.)

Also, last, I just – I want to welcome some of my crew members who are here, the guys who served on boats with me in Vietnam. These are men who lived and know the truth of our service, and they honor me today with their presence just as they did with their patriotism four decades ago. I’m grateful, wherever they are. (Applause.)

Finally – and finally, I want to thank my family. They have been the enduring supporters of an extraordinary journey. All of them – brothers, sisters, cousins, there are a lot of them here, and it’s only a small percentage that are here. (Laughter.) And my incredible wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, who – (applause).

Now, I said the other day, in the hearings a few weeks ago, I said that my approach to the role of Secretary of State would be deeply informed by my 28 years-plus that I spent on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the only committee that I was on from the day I got to the Senate till the day I left. I spent most of the time sitting a few seats down from the then-chairman, Biden, learning from him the full benefits of seniority. (Laughter.) And in fact, Chris Dodd is here, and Chris will tell you that it was Biden, Sarbanes, Dodd, and Kerry, and Chris and I used to nudge each other and say, “We’re never going to be chairmen of this committee.” (Laughter.) And then boom, all of the sudden, things change.

Six years ago, Joe Biden, Vice President Biden and I found ourselves sitting on the same committee with a young senator by the name of Barack Obama and another fellow by the name of Chuck Hagel. So for all of you senators from the Foreign Relations Committee here today, stay right where you are. (Laughter.) All the good spots are taken.

Mr. Vice President, I really am glad that you’re here. I’m proud that you’re here. I’m grateful that you’re here to swear me in. And Dr. Jill Biden, thank you for coming with him. It is special to have you and to have Hunter here, your son, who’s a good friend of our family. I know you just landed a few hours ago from your trip to Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. I welcome you home, and I hope you left me with a full tank. (Laughter.)

As the Vice President mentioned a few minutes ago, he got to the Senate ahead of me. The pundits that year that you referred to, Mr. Vice President, were predicting that I would win and you would lose. And it was exactly the other way around, so once again the pundits were zero-for-two, folks, which is not unusual. But I got – when I finally got to the Senate, I got to see our Vice President as a legislator. And I saw him with the prescience, the vision that he had, to be way ahead of everybody on the subject of the genocide in Kosovo, way ahead of everybody on crime in America and exerting leadership, put police in our streets and change that curve. I saw the respect that he commanded from our colleagues. And now as our Vice President, Joe Biden has written a new chapter as the President’s closest advisor, and I think proving a new kind of partnership in president and vice president in the conduct of our foreign policy.

The Vice President lives by a very old-fashioned code of loyalty. He talked about it a little bit in introducing me: You always tell the truth, you never forget where you came from, and your word is your bond. And I can’t tell you how many times in the Senate when I was listening to Joe negotiate or we were working on something he would say, “I give you my word as a Biden.” And you knew you had a very special commitment.

We still joke about a trip that we took with Chuck Hagel to Afghanistan and we went up to a forward operating base up in Kunar province. And our helicopter, on the way back, got caught in a snow squall in the mountains. And our pilot, literally, everything went blind and suddenly we were banking and heading down and braced for an emergency landing on this snow-covered road high in the mountains near Bagram Airbase. And the Vice President turned to Hagel and me and he offered an alternative. He said, “Maybe we could keep the helicopter aloft if the three of us just started to give a speech.” (Laughter.)

So I want to thank President Obama for the faith that he has placed in me and for the leadership that he has offered the world. I will tell you, my friends, and I think the Vice President hears this too, President Obama has restored America’s place and our reputation in the world, and we are grateful for that. (Applause.)

I want to thank Secretary Clinton for the unbelievably high standard of energy, commitment, and vision that she set in her terrific stewardship of the State Department. I am proud not only as her successor but as a citizen to have been represented by her, as I think all of you are, and the way that she traveled the world and carried America’s banner. We thank her for a job superbly done. (Applause.)

I thank you, all of you, for being here to celebrate this moment together. I thank you for your faith and your friendship, for being part of this incredible gathering in this magnificent room named for Ben Franklin, who incidentally was not only the father of the American Foreign Service but he was America’s greatest expert on electricity, and they could have used him at the Super Bowl last weekend. (Laughter.)

But a serious note: This room – I think Secretary Albright was saying to me in the room back there before we came out – how you sort of approach this building and you have no idea, it’s a 1950s kind of block building, and you come into this unbelievable room and these diplomatic surroundings. This room and the treasures that decorate it are a tribute to the names and the legacies that are embedded in our national memory. We stand here surrounded by the letters penned by Franklin’s hand, the architect table on which our first Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson drafted the blueprints of a democracy, the antique silver shaped for John Adams by his Massachusetts neighbor Paul Revere.

These statesmen did not know their experiment would succeed, but they were the kind of people who took risks. And ultimately their creativity and their courage, their persistence left the world vastly different and far better than they found it. That is the work that we continue here today, to keep the promise of our democracy for the next generation and for all the world, in quiet corners of the globe, from Tahrir Square to South Sudan, where people aspire to be what we are, to be free, and to shape their own futures.

And in the work that is our cause, we must always remember from our own national experience that hard work is required to realize freedom. And as we rededicate ourselves to that purpose for our own nation and our neighbors, it’s important we remember that. It’s well known that my experience in war shaped my understanding of the human costs of failed diplomacy and the cost of conflict itself. Vice President and Dr. Biden know the cost in a personal way because they have focused on military families and spent an enormous amount of time reaching out to them. And they understand that sacrifice and they are also a military family themselves, having seen their son Beau, the Attorney General of the state of Delaware, leave his home and deploy for a long year in Iraq. Moreover, at Dover Air Force Base in the state the Vice President represented for 36 years, when our fallen come home, we are all further reminded of what it means to be a nation at war.

I am proud to take on this job because I want to work for peace – (applause) – and because the values and the ideals of our nation are really what represents the best of the possibilities of life here on earth. But I make clear today to those listening, while my preference is for a peaceful resolution to conflict, my journey has also taught me that when remedies are exhausted, we must be prepared to defend our cause and do what is necessary to stand up to extremism, terrorism, chaos and evil, and we will continue to do so. (Applause.)

But the beauty of this place – and I do mean beauty of this place – is that before we have to make that choice, we have a lot of other choices in front of us. We can help people to help themselves. We can protect children as we did in Africa, where PEPFAR has saved millions of lives. We can keep students learning even after an earthquake destroys their schools, as we did in Pakistan. We can help young girls pursue their dreams of education, as we did in Afghanistan and other places in the world. That is what the Department of State can do. (Applause.)

Today, we tread on very new terrain – the Vice President referred to it in his comments. We’re in a world of unparalleled technology, unprecedented growth in the number of young people, of unleashed sectarian strife and religious extremism. And I believe, and I know the President and Vice President share this deeply, unless we stay vigilant, these forces threaten to unravel whole nation-states and create greater pockets of instability than we have seen in recent times. This is our challenge. I believe the United States has to join with other nations to pool our resources, our talents, our thinking, and to create order where there is none, and to fix, or try to fix, what is broken. All of us need to do better at inviting people to embrace the values that have always inspired us.

Now, some would rather say that America ought to turn inward because of budget choices, that we have to say no to the world. Well, I think we recognize our responsibility and our role. We know that America is exceptional not because we say we are, not because it’s a birthright that will happen automatically, but because America does exceptional things and we must continue to do those things. The world depends on us. (Applause.)

This is not a time for America to retreat. This is a time for us to continue to lead. Even in changing times, our constant will continue to be the character of the loyal men and women of the civil service, the Foreign Service, USAID, the Marines, the men and women of the Diplomatic Security Service who stand guard, and the locally engaged staff in many parts of the world, all of whom are America’s extraordinary diplomatic team. I am as honored by their confidence as I am humbled by their company and by our journey ahead.

We are all honored today here by the legacy of the names that mark each of these rooms: Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, John Quincy Adams. And three of our founders – Franklin, Jefferson, and John Adams – whose effects, as I mentioned, are preserved here at the State Department, were charged on July 4th, 1776, by the Continental Congress with devising an emblem for our newly minted nation. Six years later, our nation adopted The Great Seal. And ever since then, it has been in the custody of the Department of State. It literally watches over us today, guarding us from above this room right there. That’s the seal.

And this room* is named for Harry Truman. It was Truman who turned the eagle’s head away from the arrows of war and towards the olive branches that are firmly gripped in one of the claws. As the historian David McCullough wrote, “Truman meant the shift in the eagle’s gaze to be seen as symbolic of a nation both on the march and dedicated to peace.”

So, my friends, today as I take this symbolic Oath of Office to publicly reinforce the private one I took last Friday, I say to the Vice President, to my family, to my friends, to my colleagues old and new, we are still marching forward. We still believe in peace. Even as the ground beneath us shifts, we know how to find our way, and we will do so with firm footing. And in the end, our imprint on the world is one that we alone can still seal for ourselves. Let’s get to work. Thank you. (Applause.)


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