Mexico matters more than Weld Helms veto: The Senate did not do its duty

the president must do his.

September 16, 1997

WILLIAM F. WELD did the right thing in withdrawing his name from nomination to be ambassador to Mexico. The confirmation had become a political football. Relations with Mexico are among the most important this country has with any nation. The administration needs to produce an ambassador whom the Mexican government understands to be influential in the White House. President Clinton should now move swiftly to nominate a worthy candidate who can win Senate confirmation.

The administration has been fashioning a grand bargain with Sen. Jesse Helms, the irascible Republican from North Carolina who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and who has nearly paralyzed foreign policy. Mr. Clinton should never have allowed the issue of Mr. Weld to wreck that. The White House has already allowed Mr. Helms to claim credit for reforms imposed on the United Nations and reorganization of the State Department. Now Mr. Helms has another scalp.

Mr. Clinton's nomination of Mr. Weld was on the surface a bipartisan gesture, naming a prominent Republican to a key foreign policy position. Contradictorily, he was sowing division among Republicans. Some thought it was an internecine Democratic maneuver, to help Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II run for Mr. Weld's job. Mr. Kennedy bowed out, but Mr. Weld resigned anyway. Former Mayor Raymond P. Flynn of Boston has just quit as ambassador to the Vatican, perhaps to rush in where Mr. Kennedy fears to tread.

If Mr. Weld was pleasing to moderate Republicans, he enraged Mr. Helms for reasons the North Carolina Republican has never adequately explained. Mr. Helms would not allow a hearing, for fear his fellow Republicans might join Democrats in confirming Mr. Weld. The second-ranking Republican on the committee, Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, fought valiantly against Mr. Helms' fiat, upholding the duty of the full Senate to provide advice and consent, to no avail. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott saw fit to support the chairman.

The political fun and games were amusing enough, but at the expense of relations with Mexico, a troubled giant of a neighbor and trading partner. Mr. Weld, in Mexico City, would have been no threat to Senator Helms' vision for the Republican Party. Aggrieved and unemployed in Massachusetts, he may be. What's done is done. Mr. Clinton must produce a credible replacement, quickly.

Pub Date: 9/16/97

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