Brushing aside opposition from Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), the Senate yesterday confirmed former senator Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.) as ambassador to New Zealand and then broke a logjam holding up action on 80 other nominations, including six for judicial vacancies and 12 for ambassadorial posts.

The impasse over nominations was broken after Republican and Democratic leaders worked out an agreement for votes by next March on two appellate court nominees from California that GOP conservatives had succeeded in blocking.

The six judicial nominations reflected a model of diversity, including three white women, a black woman, a black man and a Latino man. Democrats and the Clinton administration had criticized the Senate GOP's treatment of female and minority nominations.

The Moseley-Braun vote was 96 to 2, with the only dissent coming from Helms and Sen. Peter G. Fitzgerald (R-Ill.), who defeated Moseley-Braun in 1998 with a campaign that focused on many of the same ethical questions that Helms raised in challenging her nomination.

Moseley-Braun's supporters said the overwhelming vote, coupled with an inquiry by the Foreign Relations Committee, which Helms heads, should dispel any remaining questions about her campaign or personal finances.

Helms did not attempt to block the nomination, as he did two years ago in torpedoing President Clinton's choice of former Massachusetts governor William F. Weld (R) to be ambassador to Mexico. But Helms maintained that there had been what he called "a successful coverup of serious ethical wrongdoing."

In a statement after the vote, Moseley-Braun said she felt "very blessed" to have been confirmed. "Everything I have heard about these countries [including Samoa, where she will also serve as ambassador] confirms that they are beautiful places with lovely people."

An early evening agreement between Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) cleared the way for action by March 15 on the long-pending nominations of Californians Marsha L. Berzon and Richard A. Paez to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Conservative Republicans had been blocking votes on them, and Democrats retaliated by holding up nominations sought by Republicans, including Lott's choice for the board of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

In addition to the six approved judicial nominations, the agreement calls for others to be voted on before adjournment or, if delays occur, no later than March 15.

Among the ambassadorial nominees confirmed was retired Adm. Joseph W. Prueher for China, who had been opposed by conservative Republicans Robert C. Smith (N.H.) and James M. Inhofe (Okla.) as too friendly to Beijing. Others were approved for South Africa, Israel, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Burundi, Swaziland, Senegal, Mali, Botswana, Congo and Burkina Faso.

Lott's choice for the TVA board also was approved.