C. William Verity, President Reagan's nominee for secretary of Commerce, won confirmation by an 84-11 vote yesterday after the Senate averted a filibuster threatened by right wing Republicans headed by Sen. Jesse Helms (N.C.).
Helms, angry because Verity favors increased trade with the Soviet Union, accused him of "selling the Soviets the rope with which to hang the free world."
The filibuster threat, which held up consideration of the Verity nomination for four weeks, was ended when the Senate voted 85 to 8 to invoke cloture. That move to end the filibuster received 25 more votes than needed, with all eight votes against shutting off debate coming from Republicans.
But on the final confirmation vote, four Democrats -- Sens. Dennis DeConcini (Ariz.), Alan J. Dixon (Ill.), William Proxmire (Wis.) and Harry Reid (Nev.) -- joined seven Republicans in opposing Verity. The negative Republican no votes came from Sens. Alfonse M. D'Amato (N.Y.), Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), Orrin G. Hatch (Utah), Helms, Gordon J. Humphrey (N.H.), Robert W. Kasten Jr. (Wis.) and Malcolm Wallop (Wyo.).
Verity, 70, retired chairman of Armco Inc., the steelmaking firm that his grandfather founded in 1900, was Reagan's surprise choice to replace Malcolm Baldrige, who died in a freak rodeo accident in late July.
Verity was attacked from the start for his long-held and widely stated support for increased trade with the Soviet Union. He has served as cochairman of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Trade and Economic Council, and has been an outspoken critic of restrictions on trade with Moscow in support of foreign policy goals. Verity said such restrictions, imposed by Presidents Carter and Reagan, hurt American business without accomplishing U.S. aims.
He also has criticized tying increased emigration of Soviet Jews to relaxation of trade barriers.
While Reagan knew of these views before naming Verity, conservative Republicans pounced on them to oppose his confirmation. Nonetheless, the Senate Commerce Committee supported his confirmation by a 17-1 vote, with Kasten the only opposing member.
D'Amato, especially annoyed because Verity is against linking trade to emigration, said the industrialist "fails the test" over respect for human rights. "He does not seem to believe in the primacy of human rights. He believes in profits," D'Amato asserted.
He added that Verity's confirmation "would send the Soviets the signal that the United States is willing to compromise on issues of international human rights. I hope that day never comes."
Helms accused Verity of threatening national security through his support of increased trade with the Soviets. He said "businessmen like him" are helping the Soviet military by their willingness to sell sophisticated technology to Moscow.
Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) and the committee's ranking Republican, John C. Danforth (Mo.), supported Verity's confirmation. Hollings, taking the lead in the floor debate, said Verity had promised the committee that he would support Reagan administration policies on trade with the Soviet Union, including maintaining the link between trade and emigration of Soviet Jews.
Verity, moreover, told the committee that he supports controlling the sale of sophisticated technology to the Soviets. But Verity, as did Baldrige, believes that the degree of controls favored by the Pentagon are so stringent that they hurt the U.S. economy without affecting the Soviets, who can buy the technology elsewhere.
"He is a distinguished business leader of the highest qualifications" who is "most deserving" of confirmation, Hollings said. He added that Reagan in 1985 began a policy of expanding trade with the Soviet Union in an effort to build a more constructive relationship with Moscow.
Danforth said he was pleased that Verity told the committee he favors the passage of trade legislation this year and believes that bills passed by the House and Senate contain elements that will help the nation.