Senate panel approves Kerry nomination

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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.

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.

Brennan faces questions from the GOP about

White House leaks of classified information and from Democrats about the

administration's

use of drones.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., threatened to

block the nomination of both men until he gets more answers from the

Obama administration

about the assault on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya that

killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Graham, who earlier this month signaled he

would delay Brennan's pick, said in an interview Monday night with Fox

News' "On

the Record" the he would "absolutely" block Hagel unless Defense

Secretary Leon Panetta testifies about the attack in Benghazi,

Libya.

Clinton testified for more than five hours last Wednesday before the House and Senate, but that wasn't sufficient for Graham.

"Hillary Clinton got away with murder, in my

view," he said. "She said they had a clear-eyed view of the threats.

How could

you have a clear-eyed of the threats in Benghazi when you didn't

know about the ambassador's cable coming back from Libya?"

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman

Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters Tuesday that a hearing with Panetta

on Libya

is planned though the date is uncertain. Graham welcomed that news

and said he would not thwart a committee vote on the nomination.

"Happy as a clam. News to me," said Graham, who met with Hagel for 20 minutes on Tuesday.

Pentagon spokesman George Little said Panetta had not responded yet to the request but that the department has been forthcoming

with information. He insisted that the Hagel confirmation process move as quickly as possible.

Two former chairmen of the committee —

Democrat Sam Nunn of Georgia and Republican John Warner of Virginia —

plan to introduce

Hagel, according to officials close to the confirmation process.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because the committee

has not formally made an announcement.

As a White House emissary, Kerry has tamped

down diplomatic fires for Obama. He also has stepped ahead of the

administration

on a handful of crises. He joined Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as an

early proponent of a more aggressive policy toward Libya,

pushing for using military forces to impose a "no-fly zone" over

Libya as Moammar Gadhafi's forces killed rebels and other

citizens. He was one of the early voices calling for Egyptian

President Hosni Mubarak to step down as revolution roiled the

nation two years ago.

During his tenure, Kerry has pushed for

reducing the number of nuclear weapons, shepherding a U.S.-Russia treaty

through the

Senate in December 2010, and has cast climate change as a national

security threat, joining forces with Republicans on legislation

that faced too many obstacles to win congressional passage.

He has led delegations to Syria and met a few times with President Bashar Assad, now a pariah in U.S. eyes after months of

civil war and bloodshed as the government looks to put down a people's rebellion. Figuring out an end-game for the Middle

East country would demand all of Kerry's skills.

The selection of Kerry closes a political circle with Obama. In 2004, it was White House hopeful Kerry who asked a largely

unknown Illinois state senator to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic convention in Boston, handing the national

stage to Obama. Kerry lost that election to President George W. Bush. Four years later, Obama was the White House hopeful

who succeeded where Kerry had failed.