WASHINGTON – The Senate confirmed Sen. John Kerry as the new Secretary of State by an overwhelming margin Tuesday.
Kerry, D-Mass., will succeed Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton as the Obama administration’s top diplomat on the strength of a 94-3 approval vote on the Senate floor. The action by the full Senate came hours after the Foreign Relations Committee unanimously recommended his confirmation in a voice vote.
Republicans and Democrats alike touted Kerry’s experience and breadth of foreign policy knowledge. Last Thursday, Kerry appeared before the Foreign Relations Committee that he’s chaired since 2009, answering questions from colleagues on nuclear threats, China’s emergence as an economic competitor and instability in the Middle East.
Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Richard Durbin, D-Ill., all spoke on the floor before the confirmation vote, praising Kerry’s past efforts on human rights and humanitarian aid.
Durbin, the assistant majority leader, credited Kerry’s work with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as key to opening up diplomatic relations with Vietnam. Kerry and McCain, both Vietnam veterans, were the leaders in a bipartisan effort to appoint the first ambassador to Vietnam.
“I’m sorry to lose him in the Senate,” Durbin said. “But I can’t think of anyone better to serve as the next Secretary of State.”
During Kerry’s 30-year tenure in the Senate, he became an important figure in foreign policy initiatives, such as calling for a no-fly zone over Libya and becoming an envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan. He served on the Foreign Relations Committee for 28 years.
Kerry, along with Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., did not vote on his own nomination. He cast his last vote as a senator Monday night, but he stopped by the floor during the roll call Tuesday, briefly chatting with colleagues, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Many senators congratulated him, and he exchanged a hug with his fellow Massachusetts senator, Elizabeth Warren, who introduced him during his confirmation hearing last week.
Three Republicans voted against Kerry: Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, both from Texas, and Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma. Kerry was the Democratic nominee for president in 2004, losing the General Election to President George W. Bush.
Prior to the vote, some Republicans called on Kerry to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, an extension of the current pipeline system that transports oil from Alberta, Canada to locations in the United States. The senators highlighted the jobs and economic growth the pipeline would bring to Midwestern states like Nebraska.
But the proposal has come under fire from environmentalists, and Kerry has been vocal about climate change during his tenure in the Senate.
“Maybe, just maybe, in his work as secretary, he can remind some of the countries that we have relationships with that climate change is a very serious problem for all of us,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.
Kerry has said the climate issue would be one of his top priorities if he were to become Secretary of State.
Kerry will also have to deal with the unstable situations in Syria and Mali and continued fallout from the deadly terrorist attack at the Benghazi consulate in Libya. Clinton has warned of extremist groups in North Africa that could become a threat to the US.
Menendez, who led Kerry’s confirmation hearings, is set to take over for him as chairman of the committee. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is expected to announce a temporary replacement to his Senate seat. A special election will occur on June 25, with the primaries set for April 30.
Kerry is the first of President Barack Obama’s revamped national security team to be confirmed. Obama’s other nominees, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and White House counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan could see more contentious hearings than Kerry.
Obama nominated Hagel to succeed Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and he will appear before the Senate armed services committee on Thursday for his hearing. Brennan, tapped to take over as CIA director, will begin his confirmation process next week.