Helms Isn't Up to Chairmanship

November 22, 1994

Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina has demonstrated in the two weeks since Republicans gained control of the Senate that he is not up to being chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

He crudely threatened President Clinton in a letter saying "the administration" would not get "full and fair" treatment before his committee if it did not postpone Senate action on a world trade agreement. That is not the position of the Republican Party in Congress.

Then Mr. Helms recklessly said on national television that he did not believe President Clinton is "up to" the job of commander in chief and implied that members of the joint chiefs of staff had said as much to him. Sen. Bob Dole, the majority-leader-to-be, and other Republican senators criticized the remark; Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the joint chiefs, denied it was true.

If Senate Republicans want to demonstrate that they are more interested in governing than in bomb-throwing, they will deny Senator Helms the chairmanship and award it to Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana.

Senator Helms does not understand that "the administration" is his government. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he does not agree with all the president's foreign policy decisions and vTC actions, but added, "We have to back whoever's president and do the very best we can to help him to do a good job." That is responsible and patriotic -- and traditional -- bipartisanship. Politics may not really stop at the water's edge, but demagogy must. Senator Helms is not fit to follow in the footsteps of such respected Republican Foreign Relations chairmen as Henry Cabot Lodge, Arthur Vandenberg, Charles Percy -- and Richard Lugar.

Senator Lugar was chairman of the committee from 1985 to 1987. He is a fair, intelligent, responsible, bona fide expert in many areas of diplomacy and national security. He is younger and more energetic than Senator Helms. He is more focused on foreign relations. He is more respected in the Senate and in the world. And he is exactly as senior on Foreign Relations as Jesse Helms.

Senator Helms was, however, elected to the Senate first, and under strict seniority rules is apparently entitled to be chairman. (He was already chairman of the Agriculture Committee in 1985, so there was no contest over Foreign Relations.) But seniority rules are not carved in stone. Rep. Newt Gingrich, the next House speaker, is promoting some non-senior House Republicans to chairmanships. And two senators -- John Warner of Virginia and Ted Stevens of Alaska -- dispute each other's claim of seniority on the Rules and Administration Committee. The Republican Caucus will have to decide that.

Republicans say they are ready to govern again. They say they are not prisoners of the old rules and prejudices. They can prove it and do their country a favor by naming Mr. Lugar, and not Mr. Helms, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

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