Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry won the overwhelming endorsement of his colleagues Tuesday to be the next secretary of State, and he will head across town to Foggy Bottom in days.
The Senate voted 94-3 to confirm President Barack Obama’s pick to take over for Hillary Rodham Clinton, with Republicans Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas and James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma voting against the nomination.
Clinton, whose last day on the job is this Friday, will deliver her final address as secretary to the Council on Foreign Relations on Thursday.
Obama said in a written statement Tuesday evening that Kerry’s distinguished career, from his decorated service in Vietnam through his decades in the Senate championing U.S. global leadership, has prepared him to guide U.S. diplomacy.
“John has earned the respect of leaders around the world and the confidence of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate,” Obama said, “and I am confident he will make an extraordinary secretary of State.”
Viewed as a shoo-in for the State Department post, Kerry, D-Mass., has drawn bipartisan praise throughout his confirmation process. That trend continued during Tuesday’s floor debate.
“I can think of no one better prepared to take on the challenges of this position,” New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez said, citing Kerry’s relationships with world leaders.
Tennessee’s Bob Corker, the top Republican on Foreign Relations, said of Kerry, “My sense is he will be open to listening” even in the face of policy disagreements going forward.
Earlier Tuesday, the panel advanced Kerry’s nomination by voice vote. Menendez presided over that vote, and the Senate approved him as Kerry’s successor (S Res 20) by unanimous consent Tuesday evening.
Kerry was absent from the brief but light-hearted meeting, but walked into the room moments after the vote and thanked his fellow senators for their support.
“I’m honored beyond words,” Kerry said, telling colleagues he will say more when he delivers a floor speech Wednesday. Afterward, Kerry told reporters he is “very wistful” about leaving the Senate, where he has served for nearly three decades. His tenure as a U.S. senator will end at 4 p.m. Friday.
Kerry’s departure from the Senate will trigger a special election for his seat, which could feature a comeback bid by former GOP Sen. Scott P. Brown, who lost his re-election race to Democrat Elizabeth Warren. Brown has yet to announce whether he plans to run.
On the Democratic side, Massachusetts Reps. Edward J. Markey and Stephen F. Lynch could face off in a primary contest April 30. The state’s Democratic governor, Deval Patrick, will appoint an interim senator to serve until the June 25 contest for the final two years of Kerry’s term.
Kerry, a Vietnam veteran and later anti-war demonstrator, was the Democratic nominee for president in 2004. He has led the Foreign Relations panel for the last four years, and he has already served as an emissary for the administration on diplomatic missions to such global hot spots as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
During his confirmation hearing last week, Kerry voiced support for Obama’s scaled-back plans for his administration’s diplomatic presence and assistance levels in Afghanistan after 2014, when all NATO combat troops are scheduled to depart. Kerry also said he backs the president’s cautious approach in Syria, advocating a political solution to the conflict there that would ease President Bashar al-Assad from power without plunging the country into sectarian violence.
Kerry also assured lawmakers that the administration’s policy on countering a nuclear Iran “is not containment” but prevention, and he pushed for policies to counter global warming and to restore the nation’s fiscal footing as a means of bolstering U.S. leadership abroad.
Emily Cadei and Joshua Miller contributed to this report.