Senators Go Easy On Labor Nominee
By Frank Swoboda
With support from powerful Republicans, Alexis Herman appeared headed for easy Senate approval as secretary of labor yesterday after a brief and gentle confirmation hearing that barely touched on her possible White House role in last year's fund-raising efforts by the Democratic Party.
Herman, who would be the highest-ranking black woman in the Clinton administration, is the only member of the Cabinet yet to be confirmed. Senate Labor Committee Chairman James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.) said the committee would vote on Herman's nomination shortly after the two-week Easter recess.
Jeffords had put off Herman's confirmation hearing for three months while the committee looked into allegations that she improperly had used her position as White House director of public liaison during the first four years of the Clinton administration to help raise money for the president's reelection campaign. The hearing took place after Herman had given the panel lengthy written responses and discussed with its members their concerns.
Herman's nomination appeared assured when Sen. John W. Warner (Va.), who was one of the few Republicans to question her about her possible fund-raising role, told the nominee yesterday that "from what I've seen today you're up to handling" the Cabinet job.
Perhaps the biggest indication of Herman's confirmation chances came at the start of the hearing when Herman, a native of Mobile, Ala., was introduced by Sen. Richard C. Shelby and Rep. Sonny Callahan, two powerful conservative Republicans from her home state. Callahan produced a letter of support for Herman from the entire Alabama congressional delegation.
Shelby, who presided over the contentious confirmation hearings of Anthony Lake to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said it was time to move Herman's nomination to the full Senate. He called Herman's nomination a "signal accomplishment" and said "she's earned her way the hard way. She's done her work."
Herman also received a strong show of solidarity from black leaders in Congress and in the Washington community. The overflow crowd in the hearing room was a who's who of prominent blacks, from Reps. Charles B. Rangel and Jesse Jackson Jr. to Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater and Washington Mayor Marion Barry.
Warner asked her about her role in setting campaign policy that would demonize Republicans. She disassociated herself from that description.
Aside from Warner, the only other questioning about the fund-raising activities came from Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.), who briefly asked Herman whether participants in trade missions at the Commerce Department were selected because of campaign contributions and party affiliation.
Herman only said that she led two trade missions in October 1995 and April 1996 and had no idea whether the business people on the trip were Democrats or Republicans. One of the trips, she said, was for women entrepreneurs, and the government had to advertise for participants.
During most of the hearing, Republican members of the committee asked her views on a laundry list of labor items such as the use of work teams, laws to allow flexible compensation and enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. In almost all cases, Herman deftly avoided making any commitment for action other than agreeing to study the situation and discuss it with them if she was confirmed.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), who served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee during much of the fund-raising controversy involving the White House, praised Herman for standing up to the public scrutiny of the lengthy confirmation process.
In an obvious reference to Lake's withdrawal of his nomination Monday as CIA director, Dodd said, "It's getting harder and harder to get good people to serve in government. Advise and consent does not have to be abuse."
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