WASHINGTON – Despite Democratic criticism of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq and elsewhere, Condoleezza Rice (search) on Wednesday won the confirmation of the Senate as the next secretary of state.
The vote was 85-13. Twelve Democrats and independent Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont voted against the nominee. It was the largest vote against a secretary of state nominee since Al Haig was confirmed in 1981 with six votes in opposition.
Rice, 50, was sworn in at 7:00 p.m. EST by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. She will replace Colin Powell and become the first black woman to serve as the nation's top diplomat.
"I'm pleased to announce I've just been informed Condi Rice has been confirmed as secretary of state," Bush said during a health care conference at the National Institutes of Health on Wednesday.
As Bush's trusted national security adviser and a main architect of his policies on Iraq and the War on Terror, Rice came under fire during last week's confirmation hearings and during Senate debate Tuesday for how she has relayed the facts about Iraq to the American people.
Concern were also raised about whether or not she would be able to carry out her diplomatic duties effectively given her close relationship with the president.
Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee was meeting Wednesday to debate and vote on whether or not to send the nomination of Alberto Gonzales (search) to the Senate. Gonzales was picked by Bush to be the successor to John Ashcroft. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 on party lines for Gonzales. A full Senate vote isn't expected until next week.
"I especially urge the Senate to confirm Condoleezza Rice today and to promptly act and confirm Judge Al Gonzales," Bush said during a press conference at the White House on Wednesday before the Senate gave Rice the thumbs up. "We have a full agenda. I'm looking forward to the work ahead."
"Dr. Rice is an honorable, fine public servant who needs to be confirmed," Bush continued. "She will be a great secretary of state and Dr. Rice and I look forward to moving forward."
Bush rejected claims by Democrats that they had been lied to in the run-up to the war in Iraq.
Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., said he would support the president's choice despite reservations about Rice's performance on Iraq. "She did no more than any other member of the administration, but they all misled," Biden said in a television interview Wednesday morning.
Republican Sen. George Allen said some Democrats only want to "criticize and carp and Monday morning quarterback."
"Particularly at time of war, we need to show unity of purpose," said Allen of Virginia, who also appeared in an interview.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., had predicted Rice would have "an overwhelming majority" of votes.
What had seemed at the outset to be a cinch turned into sometimes angry debate over Bush's decision to go to war with Iraq, his struggle with a potent insurgency and Rice's role in helping him make a case for overthrowing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
One senator, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, called the war unconstitutional and unwise. Another, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, suggested that Rice merely reinforces Bush's decisions after he has made them. And Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts charged that Rice, as Bush's national security adviser, provided Congress with "false reasons" for going to war.
Had she not, Kennedy said in a speech, "It might have changed the course of history."
"She has the authority of the president … this is a democracy and our responsibility and those of us who disagree with policies -- our practice is to stand up and say so ... we err in society if we don't think public debate" will help further democracy, Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., told FOX News on Wednesday morning.
"This administration has a mandate in the electorate to tell us the truth, tell us the facts ... I am very disturbed ... by others who have consistently misinformed Congress and the American people. This administration should be better than that and I'm going to call them on it when I see it."
All four voted against her, along with Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, John Kerry of Massachusetts, Carl Levin of Michigan, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Daniel Akaka of Hawaii and Richard Durbin of Illinois. Sens. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., and Judd Gregg, R-N.H., did not vote.
But Democratic Sens. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Ken Salazar of Colorado spoke in Rice's favor. And Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California stressed that Rice has Bush's confidence and trust and will help the United States "enhance lost credibility among many nations."
Sens. John Warner of Virginia, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, among other Republicans, also praised Rice during Tuesday's lengthy debate as a distinguished academic and public servant who tells the truth.
"She's always been candid and honest, and she listened," Hagel said.
"She's a woman of integrity, she's got tons of experience," Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told FOX News on Wednesday morning. "You're going to see the Senate vote overwhelmingly for her."
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, turned the debate against the Democrats, whose senatorial campaign committee sent a fund-raising e-mail signed by Boxer where she quoted from her sharp questioning of Rice in last week's confirmation hearings. Cornyn characterized the e-mail as part of a disinformation campaign that "crossed the line" of politics.
An academic who specialized in the study of the now-defunct Soviet Union, she has been one of Bush's closest advisers as his national security adviser for four years. Before becoming Bush's national security adviser in January 2001, Rice spent six years as provost at Stanford, the institution's chief budget and academic officer.
In testimony last week to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she swore she has not been shy about disagreeing with him privately at times. Now, she will be at his side trying to improve relations with European allies, pursuing a Middle East settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, seeking a way to stop North Korea and Iran from developing nuclear weapons and, above all, trying to pacify Iraq with limited additional U.S. casualties.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.