January 29, 2013

Senate confirms Kerry as Secretary of State

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Senate overwhelmingly confirmed President Barack Obama's choice of five-term Sen. John Kerry to be secretary of state, with Republicans and Democrats praising him as the ideal successor to Hillary Rodham Clinton.

click image to enlarge

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., emerges after a unanimous vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approving him to become America's next top diplomat, replacing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013. Kerry, who has served on the Foreign Relations panel for 28 years and led the committee for the past four, is expected to be swiftly confirmed by the whole Senate later Tuesday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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The vote Tuesday was 94-3. One senator — Kerry — voted present and accepted congratulations from colleagues on the Senate floor. The roll call came just hours after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved the man who has led the panel for the past four years.

No date has been set for Kerry's swearing-in, but in a letter to Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Kerry says his resignation is effective at 4 p.m. Friday. The State Departments plans a welcoming ceremony for Kerry on Monday.

Obama tapped Kerry, 69, the son of a diplomat, decorated Vietnam veteran and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, to succeed Clinton, who is stepping down after four years. The Massachusetts Democrat, who had pined for the job but was passed over in 2009, has served as Obama's unofficial envoy, smoothing fractious ties with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Sen. Kerry will need no introduction to the world's political and military leaders and will begin Day One fully conversant not only with the intricacies of U.S. foreign policy, but able to act on a multitude of international stages," said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who will succeed Kerry as committee chairman.

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the panel's top Republican, called Kerry "a realist" who will deal with unrest in Egypt, civil war in Syria, the threat of al-Qaida-linked groups in Africa and Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Kerry, a forceful proponent of climate change legislation, also will have a say in whether the United States moves ahead on the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, a divisive issue that has roiled environmentalists.

Obama had nominated Kerry after Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, removed her name from consideration following criticism from Republicans over her initial comments about the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Voting against Kerry were three Republicans — Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas. Absent from the vote were Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and John Hoeven, R-N.D.

"Sen. Kerry has a long history of liberal positions that are not consistent with a majority of Texans," Cornyn said in a statement. The senator is up for re-election next year and could face a tea party challenge.

Kerry's smooth path to the nation's top diplomatic job stands in stark contrast to the harsher treatment for Obama's other national security nominees — Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary and John Brennan to be CIA director.

Hagel, the former two-term Republican senator from Nebraska, faces strong opposition from some of his onetime GOP colleagues who question his support for reductions in the nuclear arsenal and cuts in defense spending. Lawmakers also have questioned whether he is sufficiently supportive of Israel and strongly opposed to any outreach to Iran.

Democrats have rallied for Hagel, and he has the announced support of at least a dozen members in advance of his confirmation hearing on Thursday. Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi will support Hagel, a spokesman said Tuesday, making him the first Republican to signal he will vote for the nomination.

Six Republicans have said they would vote against him, with some opposing Obama's choice even before the president's announcement.

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