WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to confirm Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., as secretary of state, filling a crucial national security spot in President Barack Obama’s second-term Cabinet.
Kerry, who ran as the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, will replace Hillary Rodham Clinton, who will step down as America’s top diplomat on Friday.
After the 94-3 vote, Kerry submitted a letter of resignation, effective Friday, to give up the Senate seat he has held since 1985. He will take the oath of office in a private ceremony.
In a White House statement, Obama praised Kerry as “a champion of American global leadership.”
“John has earned the respect of leaders around the world and the confidence of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, and I am confident he will make an extraordinary Secretary of State,” Obama said.
Obama’s nominee for secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, has his confirmation hearing on Thursday. Unlike Kerry, the former Republican senator from Nebraska is expected to face considerable opposition in the Senate.
Kerry failed to win only three Republican votes — Sens. John Cornyn and Rafael “Ted” Cruz, both of Texas, and Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma.
A spokesman for Cornyn said Kerry supported liberal positions that most Texans oppose. Cruz has criticized Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War combat veteran, as anti-military.
Earlier Tuesday, Kerry received the unanimous endorsement of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a voice vote. He served on the committee for 28 years and chaired it for the last four.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the ranking Republican on the committee, praised Kerry as a “realist” on foreign affairs issues, and said he was always “open to discussion” with members of the opposite party.
Several Republican senators had promoted Kerry as an alternative to Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, for the job. Rice withdrew her name from consideration amid mounting Republican criticism of her statements on TV talk shows following the deadly Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Kerry faces formidable challenges in his new job.
The first Obama administration made little headway at solving foreign policy problems in Iran, Syria, North Korea and elsewhere. Kerry also will deal with a White House that prefers to keep decisions on key issues of war and peace in its own hands.
During his confirmation hearing last week and other appearances, Kerry gave some signals of what he intends to emphasize.
He said he will begin a new effort to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, an effort that has been nearly dead since the Obama administration’s opening initiative was abandoned two years ago.
As Kerry moved toward his new role, Clinton did a final televised group interview with students and journalists at locations around the world. She was asked if she intends to run for president in 2016.
“I right now am not inclined to do that,” she said. Her immediate priority, she said, is “catching up on about 20 years of sleep deprivation.”
Kerry’s resignation from the Senate starts the clock on a special election in Massachusetts to fill his seat until his term expires in January 2015. Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, is expected to call the election on June 25 after a special primary.
Patrick will name an interim senator to serve until voters go to the polls. Possible candidates include Vicki Kennedy, widow of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, as well as former Rep. Barney Frank, who has publicly expressed interest in the temporary posting.
Republican Scott Brown, who lost an expensive 2012 re-election bid against Democrat Elizabeth Warren, has yet to signal if he will run again. He is said to be considering a 2014 campaign for governor.