Rice's confirmation was never in doubt, but a small group of Democrats put pressure on the former national security advisor to explain her role in President Bush's policy on the war on terror and Iraq.
The Senate confirmed Rice by an 85-13 vote, with 12 Democrats and one independent, Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont, voting no. The 13 votes marked the highest number of no votes for a secretary of state nominee since World War II. Her predecessor Colin Powell won unanimous approval four years ago.
"It's a proud moment for this Senate and indeed for the American people,'' said Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. "I'm disappointed that Dr. Rice's nomination was caught in the maw of partisan politics," he said.
Rice's critics included Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Mark Dayton of Minnesota and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, who faulted the former advisor for her role in shaping the Bush administration's policies on the Iraq war.
Thirty Democrats, including Sens. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Dianne Feinstein of California, voted for Rice and urged their fellow colleagues to approve her nomination as well.
In a floor statement, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., questioned why Democrats would challenge Rice's nomination and said, "I can only conclude that we are doing this for no better reason than because of lingering bitterness over the outcome of the election."
Rice will be the first black woman to serve as the nation's top diplomat. She faces difficult foreign policy matters, including promoting negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and halting nuclear weapons programs in North Korea and Iran.
Rice will be sworn in at a White House ceremony Wednesday night and take the reins of the State Department on Thursday.