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Obama nominates Mary Jo White, John Kerry for key roles

In a message to Wall Street, Barack Obama has nominated a prosecutor to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. John Kerry, nominee for secretary of state, also appeared for his confirmation hearing.

Nominated to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mary Jo White faces the dual challenges of having recently defended in her private practice the high-finance types she has now been called upon to regulate and the SEC's own reputation as being an agency too lax on business's misdeeds. Obama, however, has faith in his choice.

"You don't want to mess with Mary Jo," Obama said.

White won the convictions against two followers of Osama bin Laden for their roles in the 1998 bombings of two embassies in Africa and previously convictions in 1993's World Trade Center bombing. Obama noted that White also prosecuted high-profile fraud cases in New York and had brought down mafia kingpin John Gotti, who headed the Gambino crime syndicate. She has also served on the Nasdaq board.

The pick quickly drew praise from both Wall Street and reform advocates, with both sides agreeing that White would ably steer the powerful agency that plays a key role in overseeing US financial markets. White would succeed Elisse Walter, a Democratic commissioner who took over in December after Mary Schapiro stepped down.

Under Obama, Congress has tightened financial regulations to prevent another round of turmoil like the real estate bubble that collapsed in 2007 and caused a global recession.

"It's not enough to change the law," Obama said. "We also need cops on the beat to enforce the law."

Meanwhile, at State ...

John Kerry, a five-term Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, was showered with bipartisan praise on Thursday during his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"I look at you, in being nominated for this, as someone who has led their entire life, if you will, for this moment, being able to serve in this capacity," said Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the panel.

Kerry is still chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, a position he has held since 2009. He has sat on the committee for 29 years.

"We're honored to welcome you as the president's nominee for a position you have most deservedly earned," said New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Mendez, who chaired the hearing. "You will need no introduction to the world's political and military leaders, and will begin - on day one - fully conversant not only with the intricacies of US policy, but with an understanding of the nuanced approach necessary," Mendez added.

The lavish praise left little doubt that Kerry, who is best known outside the US for his unsuccessful presidential run against George W. Bush in 2004, will easily win confirmation as the next secretary of state, taking over from Hillary Clinton.

"I don't want this to affect your opening questions, but let me say I have never seen a more distinguished and better-looking group of public officials in my life," Kerry, 69, said to widespread laughter.

mkg/av (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)

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