Kerry tells British audience that U.S. election campaign can be ‘downright embarrassing’

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( – The U.S. election campaign “has been difficult for our country’s perception abroad,” Secretary of State John Kerry told an audience in London on Monday. “There are moments when it is downright embarrassing.”

Answering questions at a youth outreach event hosted by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Kerry was asked – by an American – how the 2016 election campaign has impacted U.S. relationships abroad, or his job representing the U.S. abroad.

Kerry began his response by saying he was not allowed to be partisan or speak in favor of one or other candidate.

But in his job as secretary of state, he continued, “I must tell you bluntly this election has been difficult for our country’s perception abroad. There are moments when it is downright embarrassing.”

Kerry said that, having himself run for the White House in 2004, “I could never have imagined debates that were not focused on real issues. And so it’s been a real change.”

He recounted awkward moments when he has urged foreign counterparts or leaders to embrace democratic norms or pass a budget, and seen a polite but “quizzical” reaction.

“The way it’s made it difficult for me is that when you sit down with some foreign minister in another country, or with the president or prime minister of another country, and you say, ‘Hey, we really want you to move more authoritatively towards democracy.’ They look at you – they’re polite, but you can see the question in their head, in their eyes, and in their expression. It’s hard.

“Or when you run in and say ‘By the way, it’s really important you guys get your budget passed,’ and I can see the quizzical look at us – when last time we tried to pass a budget was, I don’t know how many years ago. We do a continuing resolution nowadays – we don’t do the normal process.”

Kerry described the present times as “a difficult moment” but voiced optimism that the U.S. would come through stronger.

“The great thing about the United States is that it has an amazing resiliency. It has an incredible ability to absorb something like this,” he said. “And it will come out and in my judgment it will come out stronger. We’ll focus, we’ll know where we’re going, and I’m really confident about the longer-term future. But sometimes we go through these really rough moments politically, and you just have to fight through them.”

Elsewhere during Monday’s event, Kerry was asked what the most challenging thing he has faced and managed to overcome during his career in public service.

 His answer pointed, again, to his failed 2004 presidential election campaign.

“A difficult moment, which concerned me greatly because of the reasons I ran for president, was obviously losing the presidency by one state,” he said. “And if 60,000 or so votes had changed in a different direction, I’d like to think that things would have been different.”

Kerry, the Democratic nominee, ran against President George W. Bush 12 years ago, losing Ohio by about 59,000 votes, and by a 51 percent to 48 percent margin in the national popular vote.

Sitting alongside London’s first Muslim mayor, Kerry was asked about the prospect for New York or another major American city having a Muslim mayor.

“On the issue of a Muslim being mayor of New York – absolutely,” he said. “We have a Muslim member of Congress. It’s growing.”

(There are actually two Muslim members of Congress – Democratic Reps. André Carson of Indiana and Keith Ellison of Minnesota.)

Kerry said America has always been defined by its tolerance – although on the issue of immigration that has been “somewhat challenged in the last few years.”

“I am absolutely confident that the United States of America will have people of any faith or any background – ethnic or otherwise – in a position of responsibility,” he said. “And I’ve seen that change so significantly in so many different ways the last 10 or 15 years in our country.”

— Written by Patrick Goodenough