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political notebook

Senate panel schedules Kerry’s confirmation hearing

Senator John Kerry walked with Senator Robert Menendez, D-N.J. Nov. 14, 2012.

Harry Hamburg/AP

Senator John Kerry walked with Senator Robert Menendez, D-N.J. Nov. 14, 2012.

WASHINGTON — Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry will appear before fellow members of the Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 24 for his confirmation hearing to be secretary of state, according to a Senate aide.

The hearing will be chaired by Senator Robert Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who is expected to become chairman upon Kerry’s elevation to President Obama’s Cabinet and his subsequent resignation from the Senate. The committee is expected to make the official announcement of the confirmation hearing on Thursday.for

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The panel will also announce that outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in her last appearance before the panel, will testify on Jan. 23 on the investigation into the deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in September. While Kerry will officially remain chairman of the committee until he is confirmed, he will not preside over the Benghazi hearing, “because he does not want to put his colleagues in an awkward situation,” said the aide, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Kerry is expected to win speedy confirmation from the Foreign Relations Committee and the full Senate.

After meeting with Kerry on Wednesday, Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat who recently joined the panel, said, “There are few better equipped to serve as the nation’s top diplomat and leader on US foreign policy than John Kerry.”

Kerry has spent recent weeks at the State Department meeting with top diplomats and regional experts as part of his preparations for his confirmation hearings.

The first time Kerry testified before the panel was as a Vietnam War veteran-turned-protester in 1971, launching him to national fame and sparking his career in public service. He was nominated to be America’s top diplomat by President Obama on Dec. 21.

Salazar to step down from Interior Department

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WASHINGTON — Ken Salazar, the blunt-spoken lawyer and rancher who took over the scandal-ridden Interior Department at the outset of the Obama administration, said Wednesday that he would step down in March to return to his home in Colorado.

He did not say what he intended to do after leaving Washington, and the White House gave no hint of who might succeed him.

Salazar’s exit, along with the announced resignation of Lisa P. Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the anticipated departure of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, will leave vacant the critical Cabinet posts dealing with climate change and energy, among the most pressing challenges facing the nation.

President Obama, who entered the Senate with Salazar in 2005, said that the interior secretary had helped to expand the development of domestic energy resources while also protecting land, water, and wildlife.

‘‘In his work to promote renewable energy projects on our public land and increase the development of oil and gas production,’’ the president said in a statement, ‘‘Ken has ensured that the department’s decisions are driven by the best science and promote the highest safety standards.’’

In his four years in office, Salazar, 57, has taken steps to turn the Interior Department from its historic focus on mining, forestry, and oil and gas development on public lands to a new emphasis on the development of renewable energy. Since 2009, the department has authorized 34 large solar, wind, and geothermal energy projects, which eventually will produce more than 10,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to power more than 3 million homes.

Salazar also oversaw the settlement of a 15-year legal battle waged by American Indian tribes who asserted that the federal government had cheated them out of billions of dollars in trust assets and lands managed by the Interior Department. The so-called Cobell suit was filed during the Clinton administration and resolved in 2009 with a $3.4 billion settlement that brought cash and land to thousands of tribal members and organizations.

He also established seven new national parks and 10 new national wildlife refuges, and he blocked uranium mining in 1 million-acre buffer zone around the Grand Canyon.

But his tenure will be most remembered for his handling of contentious oil and gas issues, like the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the decision to allow Shell to explore for oil in the Alaskan Arctic.

Salazar, a fifth-generation Mexican-American, had served as Colorado’s attorney general and the head of its Department of Natural Resources before his election to the Senate in 2004. His brother, John Salazar, represented Colorado in the House from 2005 to 2011.

As he juggled repeated crises in Washington, Salazar often spoke longingly of his life on the family ranch near the New Mexico border. He and his wife, Esperanza, are the primary caregivers for an autistic 5-year-old granddaughter.

“Colorado is and will always be my home,’’ Salazar said in the statement announcing his departure.

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