WASHINGTON – Caroline Kennedy moved closer to winning Senate confirmation as the USA's first female ambassador to Japan after Democrats and Republicans on a key committee Thursday praised her for continuing a family tradition of public service.
Kennedy, the only surviving child of slain President John F. Kennedy, said she would be "humbled to carry forward" her father's legacy "in a small way."
"I can think of no greater honor than to represent my country abroad," she told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during her confirmation hearing.
There were few signs Kennedy would run into any road bumps on the road to Senate confirmation. Several Republican senators raised concerns about international treaties, an ongoing territorial dispute between China and Japan and the pace of removing U.S. Marines from a base on Okinawa, but none raised objection to Kennedy's appointment.
"I do know that you care deeply about public service," Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the panel, told Kennedy. "I think you are going to be a great ambassador to Japan, and the kind of ambassador they are used to having in Japan."
If confirmed, Kennedy would join the ranks of other prominent Americans who have served in the post, including former vice president Walter Mondale and two former Senate majority leaders, Mike Mansfield and Howard Baker.
Kennedy, 55, would be at the center of a U.S. relationship with one of the world's largest economies and a key ally in the Asia-Pacific region. Her nomination comes as the Japanese government is working to revive its economy and as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushes to build up the country's military force after decades of strict postwar limits on its military capabilities.
Japan's ambassador to the United States, Kenichiro Sasae, attended the hearing, as did members of Kennedy's family, including her husband, Edwin Schlossberg; two of their three children; and Vicki Kennedy, the widow of her uncle and longtime Massachusetts senator, Edward Kennedy.
During the hearing that lasted for nearly 90 minutes, Kennedy pledged to strengthen the countries' "essential relationship" on issues ranging from trade and bilateral security to education and steered clear of controversy.
She agreed with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that tensions between China and Japan over a small group of islands in the East China Sea were a "matter of great concern" but emphasized that the U.S. priority would be to resolve such disputes through diplomacy.
In keeping with presidential tradition, President Obama this year has handed out a string of coveted diplomatic posts in places like London and Madrid to campaign supporters and big fundraisers. But none has drawn as much attention as Kennedy's nomination, as the scion of the nation's most famous Democratic dynasty.
The nomination rewards Kennedy for her January 2008 endorsement of Obama, then a first-term senator from Illinois, over his better-known rival Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Kennedy is a lawyer and the author of 10 books. While she has served on the boards of many non-profit arts and education organizations, she has never worked in government nor held political office and has no special ties to Japan.
Her supporters, however, say her strong relationship with the president trumps any lack of experience in the region. In addition to campaigning for his election, Kennedy co-chaired the panel that tapped Joe Biden to serve as vice president.
Kennedy "has precisely the sort of close relationship with President Barack Obama that will ensure U.S. and Japan relations remain focused at the very highest level," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who introduced Kennedy at the panel.
"Caroline Kennedy represents the best of what our nation has to offer," Schumer said.