By voice vote, the panel approved the nomination of the five-term Massachusetts Democrat, who has been a member of the committee for 28 years and led it for the past four. The full Senate likely will vote on Tuesday afternoon, clearing the way for his swearing-in this week.
Kerry did not attend the session in the ornate diplomatic room in the Capitol. In his absence, Democrats and Republicans praised Kerry and remarked on his extensive grasp of the issues during his confirmation hearing last Thursday.
"Long-winded," joked Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a Kerry friend who had introduced the senator at that hearing.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who succeeds Kerry as committee chairman, said the senator would be "formidable secretary of state."
Obama chose Kerry, the son of a diplomat, decorated Vietnam veteran and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, to succeed Clinton, who is stepping down after four years.
Obama is overhauling his national security team. The president has nominated Chuck Hagel for defense secretary and John Brennan to serve as CIA director.