President Obama looks to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., after announcing his nomination as the next secretary of state in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The Senate will begin consideration next week of one of its own, John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), to be the next secretary of state.

Kerry’s confirmation hearing is to take place Thursday morning before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the panel he now heads. A spokesman has said Kerry plans to step aside as chairman before the session.

The longtime foreign policy expert, who has served in the Senate since 1985, is expected to win easy approval and could be on the job by early February. The committee is not likely to vote on his nomination until the following week, with approval by the full Senate expected to follow quickly.

Kerry’s Senate hearing was held up until both the Senate and House could hear directly from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton about her response to the fatal attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Libya.

Clinton will testify Wednesday morning before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and in the afternoon before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) will preside at the Senate hearing, the committee said Thursday.

Menendez is in line to assume the high-profile committee chairmanship once Kerry is confirmed as secretary of state.

Clinton canceled congressional appearances last month because of illness. She sent deputies in her place, but pledged to testify later about the findings of an independent inquiry into the attack in Benghazi, Libya.

A report released by an independent panel last month criticized security at the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi as “grossly inadequate” and raised questions about a “lack of proactive leadership” within the State Department’s Bureau for Diplomatic Security. Four department officials were disciplined.

The appearances are likely to be Clinton’s last as secretary of state.