By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - John Kerry's nomination as President Barack Obama's new secretary of state sailed through the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, as his fellow senators voted overwhelmingly to confirm him to replace Hillary Clinton as the country's top diplomat.
The vote was 94-3 in favor. The two senators from Texas, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, all Republicans, were the only no votes.
Three senators did not vote. Kerry, the senior Democratic senator from Massachusetts, voted "present."
Kerry's easy confirmation had been expected. The Senate agreed to vote quickly after his confirmation hearing last week. The Foreign Relations Committee had voted unanimously by voice vote earlier on Tuesday to back his nomination.
The Senate's approval sets in motion a special election for Kerry's Massachusetts Senate seat. The five-term senator and losing presidential candidate in 2004 is expected to be sworn later this week.
Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Foreign Relations committee, said before the roll call that a heavy vote for Kerry would send a "strong message" to the rest of the world that he had the firm backing of the entire United States.
Senator Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations committee, praised Kerry's testimony on Thursday. "I thought that Senator Kerry acquitted himself exceptionally well in the hearings that we had last week," he said on the Senate floor.
Kerry, beaming, was warmly congratulated by his fellow senators after the vote.
At the hearing of the Foreign Affair Committee, which he has chaired for four years, Kerry was visibly moved by applause and praise from his fellow senators.
"I'm honored beyond words," he said, before making brief remarks about the importance of the committee going forward on issues like Middle East peace.
Kerry, who became a U.S. senator 28 years ago, said he will make a final speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday.
"What a privilege to work with you and now to work with you in a different way. I thank you very, very much," Kerry said.
(Editing by Jackie Frank, Philip Barbara and Eric Walsh)
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