US Senator John Kerry’s nomination as US President Barack Obama’s new secretary of state sailed through the US Senate on Tuesday, as his fellow senators voted overwhelmingly to confirm him to replace US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as the country’s top diplomat.
The vote was 94-3 in favor. The two senators from Texas, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, all Republicans, were the only no votes. Kerry, the senior Democratic senator from Massachusetts, voted “present.”
Kerry’s confirmation as the first new member of Obama’s second-term national security team had been expected.
The Senate agreed to vote five days after his hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That panel, which he has chaired for the past four years, voted unanimously by voice vote earlier on Tuesday to back his nomination.
The confirmation sets in motion what is expected to be a closely contested special election for Kerry’s Senate seat.
The Boston Globe reported on Monday that Democratic Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick would announce an interim senator yesterday and had set a special election for June 25, after a primary on April 30.
Kerry, 69, a five-term senator and losing presidential candidate in 2004, is expected to be sworn in as secretary of state this week. Clinton’s last day at the State Department is Friday.
Democratic US Senator Robert Menendez said before the roll call that a heavy vote for Kerry would send a “strong message” to the rest of the world that he had the firm backing of the entire US.
US Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican on the committee, praised Kerry’s testimony.
“I thought that Senator Kerry acquitted himself exceptionally well in the hearings that we had last week,” he said on the Senate floor.
Obama has named two other nominees for his second-term national security team: former US senator Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense and John Brennan, his counter-terrorism adviser, as CIA director.
However, both are expected to face much tougher questioning than Kerry did.
Hagel’s confirmation hearing is today, and Brennan’s is set for Feb. 7.
Kerry, beaming, was warmly congratulated by his fellow senators after the vote. As the son of a diplomat and decorated Vietnam War veteran, they said, he has been preparing to be secretary of state all of his life.
At the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Kerry was visibly moved by applause and praise from his fellow senators.
“I’m honored beyond words,” he said, before making brief remarks about the importance of the committee moving forward on issues like Middle East peace.
Kerry, who has been in the Senate since 1985, said he would make a final speech in the chamber yesterday.
“What a privilege to work with you and now to work with you in a different way. I thank you very, very much,” Kerry said.