The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a series of 14-to-0 votes yesterday, approved 11 nominees for high diplomatic posts, including three who have been on Sen. Jesse A. Helms' highly publicized "hold" list.
Helms himself, who was busy writing the farm bill in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, did not participate to voice his objections or to cast his vote against the prospective State Department officials he had criticized.
Later the North Carolina Republican said he was "not surprised" at the outcome, and broadly suggested that the Foreign Relations Committee membership is unrepresentative of a conservative Senate.
"How many senators in there voted against the Panama Canal treaties? How many voted against SALT II?" asked Helms in explanation of the lopsided votes against his position. In fact, two of the senators voting for the State Department nominees yesterday opposed the Panama Canal treaties and four of them opposed committee approval of the SALT II treaty.
Both Senate Republican Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (Tenn.) and Committee Chairman Charles H. Percy (R.Ill.) voted for all the State Department nominees, despite Helms' objections.
The decision to call Helms' bluff, despite his reputation as a highly influential political force, was taken in a meeting of Republican members of the Foreign Relations panel convened by Percy at 5 p.m. Monday, Helms was invited but did not attend.
After the meeting, Percy notified Helms by telephone of the Republicans' intent to vote on the nominations Tuesday. In the face of this decision, and growing expressions of frustration by committee Democrats about diplomatic obstacles and delays which they attributed to Helms, the North Carolina senator made no effort to plead for a postponement.
While Helms said yesterday he will persist in his objectives to the State Department officials, the lopsided votes raised questions about the degree of colleagues' support for the man called by Time Magazine this week "a dominating force in the government" and "the most influential conservative around." In this case, he was outmaneuvered, almost ignominiously, by Percy, described by Time as "a man with a terminal case of political meekness" who is "no match" for Helms.
The votes came before the committee received answers to 107 written questions submitted by Helms Monday to Chester A. Crocker, the nominee for assistant secretary of state for African affairs, or 129 questions from Helms to Myer Rashish, nominated to be undersecretary of state for economic affairs. Both nominees were approved by the committee yesterday along with Robert D. Hormats, also criticized by Helms, to be assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs.
Percy said he and Baker had promised Helms that a Senate floor vote on the nominations will not take place before the receipt of answers to Helms' questions, including any neccessary follow-ups. Percy said he had been assured there would be no dilatory tactics by Helms.
Helms has objected for many weeks to some of the State Department nominees, especially those with long governmental experience, on grounds that they embody policies of compromise and pragmatism which depart from campaign positions of candidate Ronald Reagan.
A 10-page letter to Percy, made public by Helms' office last weekend, charged that Crocker's recent trip to Africa "bordered on being dismal" and was "an embarrassment to the United States."