Special Presidential Envoy for Climate – no confirmation needed

John Kerry

by Deedra Abboud in Political
January 2, 2021 0 comments

On November 23, 2020, president-elect Joe Biden’s transition team announced that John Kerry would be taking a full-time position in the administration, serving as a special envoy for climate; in this role he will be a principal on the National Security Council.

The position: Senior adviser to the president on climate-related policy and decisions, elevated to be part of the National Security Council.

John Forbes Kerry was born on December 11, 1943, at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado.

Kerry was married to Julia Thorne in 1970, and they had two daughters together: documentary filmmaker Alexandra Kerry(born September 5, 1973) and physician Vanessa Kerry (born December 31, 1976).

He is the second of four children born to Richard John Kerry, a Foreign Service officer and lawyer, and Rosemary Forbes, a nurse and social activist. His father was raised Catholic (John’s paternal grandparents were Austro-Hungarian Jewish immigrants who converted to Catholicism) and his mother was Episcopalian. He was raised with an elder sister Margaret, a younger sister Diana, and a younger brother Cameron. The children were raised in their father’s Catholic faith, and John served as an altar boy.

Kerry was originally a military brat, until his father was discharged from the Army Air Corps.

Kerry lived in Groton, Massachusetts in his first year and Millis, Massachusetts before moving to the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. at age seven, when his father took a spot in the Department of the Navy’s Office of General Counsel and soon became a diplomat in the State Department’s Bureau of United Nations Affairs.

His maternal extended family enjoyed great wealth as members of the Forbes and Dudley–Winthrop families. Kerry’s parents themselves were upper-middle class, and a wealthy great-aunt paid for him to attend elite boarding schools such as Institut Montana Zugerberg in Switzerland.

Through his maternal ancestry, Kerry also descends from Rev. James McGregor who was among the first 500 Scots-Irish immigrants to Boston Harbor in the 18th century.

In 1957, his father was stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Oslo, Norway, and Kerry was sent back to the United States to attend boarding school. He first attended the Fessenden School in Newton, Massachusetts, and later St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, where he learned skills in public speaking and began developing an interest in politics.

Kerry founded the John Winant Society at St. Paul’s to debate the issues of the day; the Society still exists there.In 1960, while at St. Paul’s, he played bass in a minor rock band called The Electras with six of his classmates. They had about five hundred copies of one album printed in 1961, which they sold some of at dances at the school; it was made available on streaming platforms many years later.

In 1962, Kerry entered Yale University, majoring in political science and residing in Jonathan Edwards College. By that year, his parents returned to Groton. While at Yale, Kerry briefly dated Janet Auchincloss, the younger half-sister of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Through Auchincloss, Kerry was invited to a day of sailing with then-President John F. Kennedy and his family.

Kerry played on the varsity Yale Bulldogs Men’s soccer team, earning his only letter in his senior year. He also played freshman and JV hockey and, in his senior year, JV lacrosse. In addition, he was a member of the Psi Upsilon fraternity and took flying lessons.

In March 1965, as the Vietnam War escalated, he won the Ten Eyck prize as the best orator in the junior class for a speech that was critical of U.S. foreign policy. In the speech he said, “It is the spectre of Western imperialism that causes more fear among Africans and Asians than communism and thus, it is self-defeating.”

Kerry graduated from Yale with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1966.

On February 18, 1966, Kerry enlisted in the Naval Reserve. After completing 16 weeks of Officer Candidate School at the U.S. Naval Training Center in Newport, Rhode Island, Kerry received his officer’s commission on December 16, 1966.

During a 1968 Vietnamese encounter, Kerry received a shrapnel wound in the left arm above the elbow. It was for this injury that Kerry received his first Purple Heart Medal.

Kerry received his second Purple Heart for a wound received in action on the Bồ Đề River on February 20, 1969.

In February 1969, Kerry jumped from his under attack boat to pursue the VC insurgent, subsequently killing him and capturing his loaded rocket launcher. Kerry was awarded the Silver Star Medal.

In March 1969, Kerry received the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” for “heroic achievement”, for rescuing a Green Beret advisor who had been knocked overboard and was receiving sniper fire from the water; he also received his third Purple Heart for an arm injury during the incident.

John Kerry was on active duty in the United States Navy from August 1966 until January 1970. He continued to serve in the Naval Reserve until February 1978.

After returning to the United States, Kerry moved to Waltham, Massachusetts and joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). Kerry participated in the “Winter Soldier Investigation” conducted by VVAW of U.S. atrocities in Vietnam, and he appears in a film by that name that documents the investigation.

In April 1971, Kerry appeared before a U.S. Senate committee hearing on proposals relating to ending the war. Kerry was arrested on May 30, 1971, during a VVAW march to honor American POWs held captive by North Vietnam. The mass arrests caused a community backlash and ended up giving positive coverage to the VVAW.

According to Nixon Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, “I didn’t approve of what he did, but I understood the protesters quite well”, and he declined two requests from the Navy to court martial Reserve Lieutenant Kerry over his antiwar activity.

After Kerry’s 1972 Massachusetts 3rd District election defeat, he and his wife bought a house in the Belvidere section of Lowell, Massachusetts.

He spent some time working as a fundraiser for the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE), an international humanitarian organization.

In September 1973, he entered Boston College Law School. While studying, Kerry worked as a talk radio host on WBZ and, in July 1974, was named executive director of Mass Action, a Massachusetts advocacy association.

Kerry received his Juris Doctor (J.D.) from Boston College in 1976. While in law school he had been a student prosecutor in the office of the District Attorney of Middlesex County. After passing the bar exam and being admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1976, he went to work in that office as a full-time prosecutor and moved to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

In January 1977, Kerry was promoted First Assistant District Attorney. Kerry thus decided to leave the District Attorney’s office in 1979 with assistant DA Roanne Sragow to set up their own law firm.Kerry also worked as a commentator for WCVB-TV and co-founded a bakery, Kilvert & Forbes Ltd., with businessman and former Kennedy aide K. Dun Gifford.

In 1982, Kerry won the Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor election, without the endorsement of the party regulars at the state Democratic convention, and served under the newly elected governor, Michael Dukakis.

As Lieutenant Governor, Kerry was active on environmental issues, including combating acid rain.

In 1984, Kerry ran for Massachusetts US Senator and won, again without the endorsement of the party regulars at the state Democratic convention.

In his victory speech, Kerry asserted that his win meant that the people of Massachusetts “emphatically reject the politics of selfishness and the notion that women must be treated as second-class citizens.”

On April 18, 1985, a few months after taking his Senate seat, Kerry and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa traveled to Nicaragua and met the country’s president, Daniel Ortega. In October, Kerry’s staff began investigations and, on October 14, issued a report that exposed illegal activities on the part of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, who had set up a private illegal funding network involving the National Security Council and the CIA to deliver military equipment to right-wing Nicaraguan rebels (Contras).

The U.S. State Department paid over $806,000 to known drug traffickers to carry humanitarian assistance to the Contras. Kerry’s findings provoked little reaction in the media and official Washington. The Kerry report was a precursor to the Iran–Contra affair. On May 4, 1989, North was convicted of charges relating to the Iran/Contra controversy, including three felonies. However, on September 16, 1991, North’s convictions were overturned on appeal.

Kerry was the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from 1987 to 1989.

During their investigation of General Manuel Noriega, the de facto ruler of Panama, Kerry’s staff found reason to believe that the Pakistan-based Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) had facilitated Noriega’s drug trafficking and money laundering. This led to a separate inquiry into BCCI, and as a result, banking regulators shut down BCCI in 1991. In December 1992, Kerry and Senator Hank Brown, a Republican from Colorado, released The BCCI Affair, a report on the BCCI scandal. The report showed that the bank was crooked and was working with terrorists, including Abu Nidal. It blasted the Department of Justice, the Department of the Treasury, the Customs Service, the Federal Reserve Bank, as well as influential lobbyists and the CIA.

Kerry was criticized by some Democrats for having pursued his own party members, including former Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford.

Kerry chaired the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs from 1991 to 1993. The committee’s report, which Kerry endorsed, stated there was “no compelling evidence that proves that any American remains alive in captivity in Southeast Asia.”

In 1994 the Senate passed a resolution, sponsored by Kerry and fellow Vietnam veteran John McCain, that called for an end to the existing trade embargo against Vietnam; it was intended to pave the way for normalization.

Kerry gave a January 23, 2003 speech to Georgetown University saying “Without question, we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator; leading an oppressive regime he presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation. So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real.”

Kerry did, however, warn that the administration should exhaust its diplomatic avenues before launching war: “Mr. President, do not rush to war, take the time to build the coalition, because it’s not winning the war that’s hard, it’s winning the peace that’s hard.”

Kerry was reelected to the Massachusetts US Senate seat in 1990, 1996, 2002, & 2008.

In January 2009, Kerry replaced Joe Biden as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The National Journal found that Kerry is the 11th most liberal member of the Senate. Most analyses find that Kerry is at least slightly more liberal than the typical Democratic Senator.

Kerry has stated that he opposes privatizing Social Security, supports abortion rights for adult women and minors, supports same-sex marriage, opposes capital punishment except for terrorists, supports most gun control laws, and is generally a supporter of trade agreements. In some of these, as in the case of abortion, Kerry distinguishes his personal views as in line with his Catholic faith, but believes that separation of church and state demands that he not legislate his religious beliefs upon those who do not share those beliefs.

Kerry was confirmed as Secretary of State in 2013, serving until 2017.

After six months of rigorous diplomacy within the Middle East, Kerry was able to have Israeli and Palestinian negotiators agree to start the 2013–14 Israeli–Palestinian peace talks.Kerry was the first U.S. Secretary of State to have met with his Iranian counterpart since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Kerry said the United States supported the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen because Saudi Arabia, an ally, was threatened “very directly” by the takeover of neighboring Yemen by the Houthis, but noted that the United States would not reflexively support Saudi Arabia’s proxy wars against Iran.

On December 28, 2016, soon after United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 passed 14–0 with the U.S. abstaining, Kerry joined the rest of the U.N. Security Council in strongly criticizing Israel’s settlement policies in a speech.

On September 9, in response to a reporter’s question about whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avert a military strike, Kerry said “He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.”

This unscripted remark initiated a process that would lead to Syria agreeing to relinquish and destroy its chemical weapons arsenal, as Russia treated Kerry’s statement as a serious proposal. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia would work “immediately” to convince Syria relinquish and destroy its large chemical weapons arsenal. Syria quickly welcomed this proposal and on September 14, the UN formally accepted Syria’s application to join the convention banning chemical weapons, and separately, the U.S. and Russia agreed on a plan to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons by the middle of 2014, leading Kerry to declare on July 20, 2014: “we struck a deal where we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out.”

On September 28, the UN Security Council passed a resolution ordering the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons and condemning the August 21 Ghouta attack.

In a speech before the Organization of American States in November 2013, Kerry remarked that the era of the Monroe Doctrine was over. He went on to explain, “The relationship that we seek and that we have worked hard to foster is not about a United States declaration about how and when it will intervene in the affairs of other American states. It’s about all of our countries viewing one another as equals, sharing responsibilities, cooperating on security issues, and adhering not to doctrine, but to the decisions that we make as partners to advance the values and the interests that we share.”

In April 2016, Kerry signed the Paris Climate Accords at the United Nations in New York.

On November 11, 2016, Kerry became the first Secretary of State and highest-ranking U.S. official to date to visit Antarctica. Kerry spent two days on the continent meeting with researchers and staying overnight at McMurdo Station.

In September 2015, the U.S. Department of State unveiled a new initiative called “Global Connect” which seeks to provide internet access to over 1.5 billion people around the world who do not have online connectivity by year 2020.

Kerry did not attend Donald Trump’s inauguration and the following day took part in the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C.Kerry has taken a strong stand against Trump policies and joined in filing a brief arguing against the new president’s executive order banning entry of persons from seven Muslim countries.

Following retirement from government service, Kerry signed an agreement with Simon & Schuster for publishing his planned memoirs, dealing with his life and career in government.

In September 2018, he published Every Day Is Extra.

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