Clinton Assails GOP Delay on Herman Vote
By Peter Baker
President Clinton yesterday condemned Senate Republicans for holding up confirmation of his choice for labor secretary because of a dispute over a pro-union executive order, declaring that his reelection gave him the right to take action even if GOP leaders disagree.
The president used a speech before United Auto Workers leaders to pressure Senate leaders to call a vote on his nomination of former aide Alexis M. Herman to head the Labor Department, which has remained without a permanent leader for three months.
Herman, the chief White House public liaison during Clinton's first term, survived a tense and lengthy investigation by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee earlier this month, and her nomination reached the floor of the Senate with the panel's unanimous recommendation. But GOP senators delayed a final vote planned for last week to protest Clinton's promised order that effectively could compel many federal contractors to use unionized labor.
In an exasperated tone yesterday, Clinton said Republicans are not respecting his fall election mandate.
"They said, 'Okay, she's qualified. We all voted for her in committee. You won the election. You have the power to do this [executive order]. But if you do this, we might never give you a secretary of labor,' " Clinton said. "Now, I don't think that's the way to run a railroad."
"You know," he added, "I don't refuse to work with them because they won the election. I know they wouldn't have voted for me and that goes two ways."
The disputed executive order, first promised by Vice President Gore at an AFL-CIO meeting in February, would require federal agencies to consider using agreements, negotiated before construction projects, setting wage and work rules that almost always involve union contractors and generally are avoided by open-shop, or nonunionized, firms that consider them too costly.
Republicans, joining industry criticism, complain the move is Clinton's way of repaying organized labor for helping to reelect him last year. Senate GOP leaders want the president to drop the order or send it to Capitol Hill in the form of legislation for a vote.
Clinton said yesterday he would be willing to "sit down and talk about it," but said the Senate must go forward with Herman's nomination.
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