Condoleezza Rice was sworn into office as US secretary of state late on Wednesday following her Senate approval and after blistering Democratic attacks over Iraq that herald a fierce partisan debate on foreign policy in the coming years.
Rice, a former national security adviser to President George W. Bush and one of his closest aides, was cleared just hours earlier by the Senate to replace Colin Powell as chief US diplomat by a vote of 85 to 13, with two abstentions.
The 50-year-old Rice was sworn in by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card in a short ceremony, immediately making Rice the new top US diplomat and allowing her to get to work at her new State Department desk yesterday. Bush will attend an official ceremony for Rice today, according to White House spokesman Scott McClellan.
Rice is the second woman, and first black woman, to assume the post of chief US diplomat. But the 13 "no" votes cast by Democrats were the most for a secretary of state since World War II, highlighting the party's divisions with the administration over Iraq and the handling of the war on terror.
Democrats used Rice's confirmation hearings last week and eight hours of debate in the full Senate to signal their determined opposition to the policies she helped craft. Senator Edward Kennedy railed against her role in a war he described as a "catastrophic failure, a quagmire," and Senator Robert Byrd said flatly that her record did not merit a promotion.
"Her confirmation will almost certainly be viewed as another endorsement of the administration's unconstitutional doctrine of pre-emptive strikes ... and its callous rejection of our long-standing allies," Byrd said.