Despite backlash, Helms still in line for foreign relations post

November 24, 1994|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- Despite a fierce national backlash from his criticism of President Clinton, Sen. Jesse Helms appears to be firmly in line to become chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

But the North Carolina Republican did get a low-key warning about controversial comments in a telephone conversation yesterday with Senate Republican leader Bob Dole.

"I think Jesse clearly understands now, as chairman of the committee, he can't even joke about these things," Mr. Dole of Kansas later told CNN. "In essence, we agreed that it wouldn't happen again."

A number of prominent conservatives rallied behind Mr. Helms yesterday, asserting that the "liberal news media" unfairly pilloried the senator for saying Mr. Clinton "better have a bodyguard" to visit North Carolina military bases.

Mr. Helms later said it had been a "mistake" to make the remark. It came in a casual telephone conversation with a reporter for a North Carolina newspaper, he explained.

Asked yesterday if Mr. Helms would give up his quest for the lTC foreign relations post, aide Jimmy Broughton said, "No way."

In the Senate, where top committee assignments are based largely on seniority, it would be extremely difficult to derail Mr. Helms, who has served for 22 years. If he wants the chairmanship -- and he does -- he is almost certain to get it.

"The system is stacked against getting rid of Jesse Helms," noted American University political analyst James Thurber, who has worked in the Senate.

If other Republican senators were to try to edge Mr. Helms out of the post he wants, it would pose a threat to the whole seniority system -- something no one really wants, Mr. Thurber said.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana reportedly wanted the foreign relations chairmanship.

But a top Senate Republican aide said yesterday that Mr. Lugar won't challenge Mr. Helms for the post. Instead, Mr. Lugar is expected to assume the chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee.

Although senators from both parties distanced themselves from Mr. Helms' remarks, none has publicly demanded he give up his bid for the foreign relations chairmanship.

Mr. Helms was keeping a low profile yesterday. He was not giving interviews.

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