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Helms Scolds His Colleagues On Weld Nomination (09/12/97)

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White House Sources: Bleak Chances For Weld

Weld

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Sep. 13) -- Publicly, President Bill Clinton and former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld insist they aren't ready to give up on Weld's nomination to be ambassador to Mexico.

But after a week in which the man standing squarely in the way of that nomination, Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., demonstrated once again the fervor of his opposition, White House sources tell CNN they consider Weld's prospects bleak and are not betting on success.

The best chance now for Weld to go to Mexico City may be for Clinton to give him a recess appointment that doesn't require Senate approval. When Congress is not in session, the president can appoint someone to a one-year term in a job that normally requires Senate confirmation.

But that could run the risk of angering Helms and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., who control of the fate of items important to the White House agenda -- a wrinkle the president as much as acknowledged Friday.

"I have to be careful how I handle this," Clinton said.

At the insistence of other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Helms, its chairman, convened a meeting Friday on the Weld nomination.

Wrath

But he made it clear that he did not consider the meeting to be a formal hearing on the nomination, and he reiterated his opposition to holding a hearing. Helms opposes Weld's nomination because he says the Republican former governor is "soft" on the issue of drugs, which Helms says makes him unfit for the Mexico post.

The hurdle Weld faces is made even higher because of the support Helms has received from Lott.

"I call upon the president to put aside politics," Lott said after Friday's meeting. "Withdraw the nomination of Mr. Weld and send a nominee whom the Senate can confirm and send to Mexico immediately."

Few, if any, of Helms' Senate colleagues believe the chairman is going to relent and grant Weld a hearing. But some Senate Republicans are starting to become concerned about the impact that this battle between two prominent Republicans is having on the party and possibly on U.S.-Mexican relations.

Helms

"I hope it plays out very quickly. It's obviously not helpful," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "At some point we need to recognize the importance of U.S.-Mexico relations" and either resolve the Weld nomination or move forward with another nominee, he said.

Unable to get around Helms, some supporters of the Weld nomination think their best shot may now be to lean on Lott, who could bypass Helms and bring the nomination directly to the floor if presented with a petition signed by a majority of the Senate.

"Who do you think will be more likely to yield to national pressure, Helms or Lott?" said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the ranking minority member on the foreign relations committee. "There's only one person who ca