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Senate votes to confirm Kerry as secretary of state

The Senate confirmed Sen. John Kerry by a vote of 94-3. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

The Senate confirmed President Barack Obama’s nomination of Sen. John Kerry, D- Mass, to be secretary of state Tuesday. The vote was 94 to 3, with three Republicans – Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. – voting against him.

“Sen. Kerry has a long history of liberal positions that are not consistent with a majority of Texans,” said Cornyn spokesman Drew Brandewie.

Kerry stood on the Senate floor as his colleagues voted on his confirmation. Kerry himself voted "present."

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

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.

Tuesday’s vote sets the stage for Kerry’s resignation from the Senate where he has served for 28 years. A special election will be held in Massachusetts, probably in June, to replace him.

At the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Tuesday morning, incoming committee chairman Sen. Robert Menendez, D- N.J., praised Kerry’s “impressive grasp and depth and thoughtfulness on the critical issues” he will be facing in his new job. Among those issues is the U.S. response to the civil war in Syria in which more than 60,000 have been killed. At his confirmation hearing last week, Kerry came under bipartisan pressure on Syria.

Sen. Chris Coons, D- Del., a Foreign Relations Committee member who was part of a bipartisan Senate delegation that recently toured the Middle East, complained to Kerry that U.S. humanitarian aid intended for Syrian refugees “has not reached the people on the ground.”

On Tuesday Obama announced that he had approved an additional $155 million in humanitarian aid for Syrians and refugees fleeing the violence in the country. In comments to reporters Tuesday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called this “a Band-Aid. We don’t even know – because of our lack of involvement in Syria – whether that aid actually gets to the Syrian freedom fighters. We know that a lot of it previously has gone through Damascus and has been diverted.”

McCain called the lack of U.S. intervention in supporting an overthrow of the regime of Bashar al-Assad “a shameful chapter in American history.”

But McCain said he has had many conversations with Kerry about Syria “and I think he is at least more concerned than anybody else in the administration.”

McCain, Coons and others want the U.S. aid to go directly to the Syrian opposition rather than being routed through the United Nations and the Syrian government.

Some senators are also urging Obama to impose a no-fly zone and to provide weapons to fighters who are trying to overthrow Assad.