White House Rallies Constituent Groups For Embattled Labor Nominee Herman
By Peter Baker
By all appearances, it amounted to a pep rally for Alexis M. Herman. More than 75 leaders of labor unions, civil rights groups and women's organizations gathered at the White House yesterday to cheer on President Clinton's embattled nominee for labor secretary and pledge to do everything they can to get her confirmed.
The administration is equally committed to pushing through Anthony Lake as the next CIA director, but such a rally of supporters might be problematic. As one official joked, the White House could issue a news release titled, "1,000 Spooks for Lake," but it would have to leave the names off "and you'd have to trust us."
With Congress returning from recess next week, the White House is gearing up its lobbying machine to rescue two of its would-be Cabinet members languishing in the Republican-controlled Senate. But by dint of their offices and political backgrounds, the Clinton team faces sharply different dynamics as it goes about the task, necessitating a highly public campaign in one case and a quieter, though no less intense, effort in the other.
Herman has a natural constituency that the White House is trying to turn to her advantage. Organized labor, although initially cool to Herman, has embraced her and rushed to her side.
African American and feminist activists likewise feel a stake in her nomination because she would be the only black woman in the Clinton Cabinet.
After leaving yesterday's session, Yvonne Scruggs of the Black Leadership Forum said a coalition of groups will hold a news conference next week to support Herman, reminding the Senate that her defeat "has the potential for eliminating a whole segment of the American community . . . from that inner circle."
With Lake, there is no such obvious, visible group to come to his aid. The White House is organizing allies to pitch his case on Capitol Hill, but the people who care most about the nation's intelligence apparatus tend to be spies, policy analysts and others who either cannot or generally do not orchestrate public relations campaigns.
Herman and Lake are in trouble for different reasons, too, although there are some common threads. Both have been caught up to varying degrees in questions about the conduct of their old offices related to campaign activities and both have had to defend their personal finances.
The delays in their confirmations have frustrated Clinton, who twice in the last eight days, has taken it upon himself to speak out on behalf of his nominees even when reporters did not ask.
But for the most part, White House officials said they remain confident both Herman and Lake can be confirmed if their nominations simply can get past the skeptical GOP committee chairmen who have bottled them up and be put to a vote on the floor.
"The odd thing is I don't think this is in trouble," one senior Clinton aide said about Herman's nomination. "When we look back at this in retrospect, I think the most difficult part of this process will have been getting the hearing date."
Herman is the only Cabinet nominee who has not had a date for a hearing scheduled, but the White House said Labor and Human Resources Committee Chairman James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.) promised to set one soon in a telephone conversation with Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine B. Bowles this week.
Lake's hearing has been postponed twice and is now slated for March 11.
With the GOP controlling the labor committee 10 to 8 and the Select Committee on Intelligence 10 to 9, the White House apparently needs to persuade only one or two moderate Republicans on each panel to get to the floor for a vote. Some Republicans believe that ultimately it is only a matter of time.
"The Lake and the Herman nominations have not generated the passion that have accompanied other controversial nominations in the past," said a Senate GOP leadership aide.
"Usually when a nominee generates heated opposition, the faxes fly out of the machines at a hundred a minute. Neither of these nominations has produced that kind of activity."
Another GOP aide was more pessimistic. "Neither one of them is seeing light at the end of the tunnel," he said.
In part, that is due to the occasional drip-drip of new revelations about their actions in past White House jobs, Lake as national security adviser and Herman as chief of public liaison.
Just this week, for example, senators focused anew on the politics in Herman's office upon learning that one "volunteer" working for her was being paid by the Democratic National Committee. Bowles ordered the practice stopped after media reports.
Two other Cabinet-level nominations are pending in the Senate as well, but they do not appear in serious trouble.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has scheduled a vote for Wednesday on Federico Pen~a's nomination for energy secretary and "there doesn't seem to be the same sort of problems the other nominees are having," a Senate GOP official said.
His nomination has been complicated by a dispute between some senators and the Clinton administration over nuclear waste storage policy and by a lawsuit filed by a whistle-blower who charged that as Clinton's first-term transportation secretary Pen~a ordered reinstatement of an allegedly fraudulent Coast Guard contract.
But Pen~a got good news yesterday when the Justice Department filed a motion in District Court here seeking his dismissal as a defendant. The legal documents stated that the Transportation Department's inspector general "found that Secretary Pen~a had no involvement whatsoever in the contractual relationship."
The other nominee on hold is acting Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, who enjoys strong support among Senate Republicans. However, she has been caught in a snag related to a dispute about whether the new World Trade Organization telecommunications pact has to be submitted to the Senate for a vote.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company