Speaking of Helms, he and Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.) had a heated exchange over a comic book during last week's Senate debate over an amendment to overturn a controversial District law prohibiting insurers from requiring AIDS antibody tests.

The outspoken Weicker derided Helms' amendment to the fiscal 1988 District appropriations bill as an unwarranted intrusion on home rule and asked, "Why the interest in AIDS? Why not be interested in some other disease? I understand the interest of the distinguished senator from North Carolina in AIDS. I have seen some of the documents that come from his office. It does no credit to this body."

Weicker, according to an aide, was upset that Helms had sought to discredit a group called Gay Men's Health Crisis, which received federal grants, by circulating copies of a sexually explicit comic book produced by the group to promote use of condoms. Federal funds were not used to produce the book, the aide said.

A sputtering Helms appealed to the Senate's presiding officer: "Mr. President, come on. I ask the chair to advise the senator how far he can go in a comment like that."

Weicker sought to respond, but Helms cut him off. "I appeal to the chair," Helms said. "The senator has overspoken himself, and I want the chair to rule on that."

After a moment, the presiding officer replied: "The senator from Connecticut has the floor, and he will confine his comments to the subject matter of the amendment."

The Senate subsequently voted 55 to 44 in favor of the amendment.