By PAUL C. BARTON, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- As he officially became lead or "ranking" Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee called for a comprehensive review of how the State Department functions.
"It seems to be a place that does not think outside of the box," he said in a conference call with reporters.
Corker said he is especially concerned the department's attention to security arrangements and wants a review of all foreign assistance programs as well to make sure they are in "in line with American strategic national interests."
The second-term senator said it's been decades since the department's programs were thoroughly reviewed.
Corker will jump into the fray Wednesday when the committee takes testimony from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will discuss security arrangements in place at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012, when a terrorist attack killed four Americans, including ambassador Chris Stevens.
"I don't see it as playing gotcha," Corker said of the hearing, but added he does expect questions about what communications took place with the president and others in Washington the night of the attack.
But for the most part, he said the committee will be seeking ways to improve security for U.S. diplomatic personnel worldwide.
On a related topic, Corker said al-Qaida is showing it is not the spent force some have assumed.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," he said.
And on the nomination of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to be the new secretary of state, Corker said it would likely "sail through."
As for Tennessee, Corker said his work on the committee will relate to his home state in many ways, especially on issues affecting trade and economic development as well as the state's military facilities.
Tennesseans generally, he said, "have a lot of interest (in foreign policy)" and that international issues "are very important to the quality of life in Tennessee."
The Tennessee senator has been a member of the committee since 2007 and has visited 48 countries.
The position of ranking Republican became open when former Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., lost his bid for re-election.
In a statement released earlier Tuesday, Corker said:
"I am honored to have the opportunity to lead the Foreign Relations Committee on behalf of the minority, and as we enter this new Congress, it is my goal to see the committee play a more relevant role in international relations and be a place where we look at our national interests in the context of the longer view."
The new chairman of the panel, replacing Kerry, is Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.
Contact Paul C. Barton at email@example.com