Bentsen, Aspin, Christopher confirmed Baird's prospects suffer a setback INAUGURATION 1993

January 21, 1993|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The Senate gave Bill Clinton's presidency a jump-start by confirming three of his nominees yesterday, but it remains to be seen whether Mr. Clinton will be as quick in presenting a legislative program.

Lawmakers of both parties praised his inaugural speech and, at a luncheon, gave him a key to the Capitol and an invitation to visit whenever he wishes. On his first day in office, they did not publicly pressure him for a timetable on the economic and health care initiatives he has promised but is not ready to deliver.

For the time being, both houses have plenty to work on: House and Senate Democrats want to quickly pass a bill to give workers unpaid leave to deal with family emergencies, legislation that former President George Bush had vetoed.

Voter registration legislation also is expected to be passed promptly by the Democratic majority. And the Senate has put most of Mr. Clinton's Cabinet appointments on a fast track for confirmation.

Those confirmed yesterday were Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, Defense Secretary Les Aspin and Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher.

Only one appointment, that of Attorney General-designate Zoe Baird, seems to be provoking significant controversy.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to resume its hearing on the nomination today. Committee Democrats, more than Republicans, are concerned about why she and her husband broke the law in retaining a Peruvian couple who were in the country illegally, and in not paying Social Security taxes for them.

Committee members say they've received many calls criticizing Ms. Baird, and almost none in her favor.

She suffered a significant setback yesterday when former Texas Rep. Barbara Jordan, a highly respected Democrat, urged her to withdraw, saying that would be the "ethical" thing to do.

And in an apparent sign of sensitivity about her nomination, Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell did not comment on it yesterday beyond noting the continuing hearing.

But there was no such problem among the three men who were confirmed unanimously by voice vote yesterday. All received bipartisan praise, particularly Mr. Bentsen, the former Texas senator whose stature earned him the right to be confirmed first by his former colleagues.

Republican leader Bob Dole said Mr. Bentsen's selection is "something on which Democrats and Republicans and Ross Perot all agree."

Sen. Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican, termed Mr. Bentsen a "statesman" and said Mr. Christopher is "a jewel."

But for all the praise, Mr. Bentsen is entering the Cabinet at a subcabinet pay level, $99,000 instead of $144,000. He may not accept the higher pay because he had voted for it and by law is barred from benefiting from his action as a senator.

Bipartisanship was in evidence all day. In giving Mr. Clinton a key, House Speaker Thomas S. Foley said "it is a symbol of our outstretched hand, our pledge of cooperation.'

Mr. Clinton responded humorously. Referring to his active lobbying of the Arkansas legislature while he was governor, he said: "I may be here all the time."

Becoming serious, Mr. Clinton said: "I honestly do believe much of what we have to do today is work that knows no necessary partisan label."

He offered a toast, one of several made with glasses of champagne, to "a new partnership in America's government."

There were some 230 guests, including top lawmakers, Cabinet designees, former President Jimmy Carter, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Byron R. White from the Supreme Court, and former Vice President Walter F. Mondale.

Republicans joined the Democrats in praising Mr. Clinton's inaugural speech. Mr. Dole, who is being wooed by Mr. Clinton, termed the address "eloquent and to the point." He said he was particularly "pleased to hear him use the word sacrifice, a word that strikes fear in the heart of many" in Congress.

Mr. Dole promised cooperation and no gridlock -- "except maybe from time to time," he said, provoking laughter.

Mr. Mitchell termed the speech "positive, forward-looking and uplifting. I especially liked his call of opportunity for all and responsibility for all."

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