Holbrooke Bid Faces Stall on Floor

The long-stalled nomination of Richard C. Holbrooke to be ambassador to the United Nations was unanimously confirmed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, only to run into new problems as it heads for the Senate floor.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) had served notice earlier that he would hold up action to protest the State Department's transfer of a senior staff member because she told members of Congress about alleged waste and mismanagement at the United Nations. More recently, Grassley held out the possibility of freeing up Holbrooke's nomination before the Senate leaves Friday for a week-long July 4 recess if the State Department cooperates.

But John Czwartacki, spokesman for Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), said two or more other senators have put what he described as "irreconcilable holds" on the nomination. He did not identify the senators. Others said these holds did not arise out of objections to Holbrooke but rather were aimed at forcing concessions on other matters. Asked what "irreconcilable" meant in this context, Czwartacki said, "Big, big problems."

Gun Law Negotiations Delayed

House and Senate leaders said this week they would postpone negotiations over juvenile justice legislation until after the recess, prompting an outcry from President Clinton and House Democratic women yesterday.

The move effectively delays the enactment of any new gun controls, since the Senate version includes a 72-hour background check at gun shows, the sale of trigger locks along with handguns and the ban on importation of large-capacity ammunition clips. The House bill includes none of these restrictions.

"Well, the Republican leadership must be more afraid of the NRA than they are of violence in our schools," said Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), referring to the National Rifle Association. "They are afraid that in conference the real gun control provisions passed in the Senate will be added to their hollow bill."

But a spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said staff members were merely "trying to clear out the underbrush" before negotiations could begin.

Clinton called the delay "a grave mistake" and pushed for the Senate restrictions. "Congress should make such measures the law of the land without further delay," Clinton said in a three-paragraph letter to Hastert.

Sen. Robert C. Smith (R-N.H.) has also put a legislative "hold" on the appointment of conferees, further complicating negotiations.

Babbitt Appears Before Grand Jury

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt appeared before a grand jury that is trying to determine whether he lied to Congress about his department's 1995 rejection of a proposed Indian gambling casino in Hudson, Wis., and whether alleged campaign financing abuses might have played a role.

It was Babbitt's first appearance before the grand jury and signaled that a nearly 15-month investigation by independent counsel Carol Elder Bruce seems to be nearing its end.

Babbitt has denied any connection between Democratic campaign contributions and the casino decision. He has said the project was rejected on the recommendation of career officials at Interior unaffected by intense lobbying. Tribes opposed to the casino as a threat to their own gambling profits gave more than $350,000 to Democrats for the 1996 campaign, most of it after the casino application was rejected.

Babbitt was interviewed by prosecutors and spent several hours at the courthouse.

For the Record

Starting today, people with disabilities may earn up to $700 per month -- $200 more than the old limit -- before losing their federal benefits. The Social Security Administration estimates the change will benefit about 27,000 people in its Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income programs and cost $1.2 billion through 2004.

The Senate approved a $12.7 billion foreign aid package after rejecting, on a 55 to 43 vote, an effort to sharply ease restrictions on Americans who want to travel to Cuba. Sponsors said 38 years of sanctions have failed to produce much impact on the policies of Cuba's Fidel Castro and it was time to try something new. Opponents argued it would undermine U.S. policy toward the communist government.

Clinton has threatened to veto the foreign aid bill, approved 97 to 2, because it contains $1.9 billion less than he wants.