Weld Says Denying Him Hearing 'Not American Way'
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Sep. 7) -- Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld said Sunday that Sen. Jesse Helms' refusal to hold a hearing on his nomination by President Bill Clinton to be U.S. ambassador to Mexico is "just not the American way."
Helms, a North Carolina Republican, chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has said he opposes the appointment of Weld, a fellow Republican, because he is too soft on the issue of illegal drugs.
Weld, who has courted senators and attempted to build support for his nomination in recent weeks, said on ABC's "This Week" program that he was still "eager and anxious" to meet with Helms to discuss their differences.
And on the day after Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott told CNN that the Weld nomination was "dead," Weld made it clear that he disagreed and was not going to give up his fight.
"It is now clear that a majority of members of the committee stated in writing that they want to have a hearing. A majority of the members of the United States Senate have said that they want to have a hearing," Weld said.
"I dare say that a majority of the American people think that having a fair hearing on an issue of importance in our relations with Mexico is extremely important to our national interest, as well as theirs."
Weld said there was almost no precedent for a person nominated by the president to an ambassadorship to be denied a hearing. "It's just not the American way," he said.
Those comments brought swift negative reaction from Helms' spokesman, Marc Thiessen, who said the former governor should have apologized for his earlier criticism of Helms rather than criticize him anew.
Lott, too, has said Weld hurt himself previously by not behaving diplomatically and opting instead for a frontal assault on Helms. But in Sunday's interview, Weld took care not to attack his fellow Republicans and said his disagreements with Helms have never been "personal."
However, Weld said Helms' views about Weld's record on the drug issue were based on "faulty data."
"It seems to me that while there are legitimate and very substantial areas of disagreement between, for example, Senator Helms and myself, that's exactly the sort of thing that committee hearings in the United States Senate are designed to thrash out," Weld said. "And we'll see whether the record was strong or the record was weak."
Weld said he's "never supported the legalization of marijuana" despite what some of his critics have claimed. He said that was one of the issues he could lay to rest in a hearing.
Asked why he would give up his governorship to pursue the Mexican ambassadorship, Weld said, "I believe that our bilateral relations with Mexico are as important as any country in the world."
He also shot down speculation that he might be using the ambassadorship fight as a platform for a presidential campaign in the year 2000 or that he might become a Democrat.
"I'm not interested in presidential politics in 2000. I hope and expect to be serving our country in Mexico City in the year 2000," he said. "I have absolutely no intention of switching parties under any circumstances ever."
On Friday, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa, chairman of the Republican governors' conference, said he felt Clinton had left Weld "twisting in the wind." But Weld said he was satisfied with the backing he has received from the White House.
"The president has been totally supportive of me. I've got no complaint there whatsoever," Weld said.
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