WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed Sen. John Kerry as secretary of state Tuesday, filling a key position on President Obama’s retooled national-security team.
The nomination was approved by a vote of 94-3. Only three senators, all Republicans, opposed the nomination: Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas, and James Inhofe, of Oklahoma. Kerry voted present.
Obama’s first choice for the job, Susan Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, withdrew as a candidate after Republicans criticized her for comments she made after September’s deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.
Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who has served in the Senate since 1985, had strong support on both sides of the aisle. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the panel he has led for the past four years, gave his nomination unanimous approval hours before the Senate vote.
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Kerry, who is a Vietnam veteran, a former presidential candidate and the son of a diplomat, will be inheriting a difficult agenda. The conflict in Syria has killed more than 60,000 people. The international envoy on the Syrian crisis, Lakhdar Brahimi, who reported to the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday, has made no headway. Egypt is in turmoil. By Kerry’s own account, relations with Russia have deteriorated.
As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee during Obama’s first term, Kerry was a loyal ally of the White House and served as an interlocutor with President Bashar Assad, of Syria, and President Hamid Karzai, of Afghanistan, among others.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose last day as secretary of state is Friday, said at a global forum at the Newseum on Tuesday that she expected Kerry to undertake a new effort to narrow differences between Israel and the Palestinians.
Kerry, 69, suggested in his confirmation hearing last week that he would try to make headway in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Obama has also named former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., to succeed Leon Panetta as secretary of defense, and John Brennan, Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, as CIA director, permanently replacing David Petraeus, who resigned in November.
Hagel’s hearing is scheduled for Thursday, and Brennan’s for Feb. 7.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is stepping down. The former congressman from Illinois and one of only two Republicans who served in Obama’s Cabinet, LaHood, 67, worked for more safety in the air and on the ground, and pushed for improvements of roads and bridges. Under his watch, the department demanded tougher fuel-efficiency rules for automakers and took steps to address airline-pilot fatigue.