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  • Weld resigned as Massachusetts's governor July 28 to pursue his nomination.
  • Senate rules allow Helms to thwart ambassadorial nominations.
  • President Clinton said the Senate has been delaying his nominations.
  • Rarely has a presidential nomination arrived in the Senate in worse shape.
  • Weld testified against Reagan administration officials during the Iran-Contra probe.
  • All recent Post stories about the Weld nomination are online.

    From the AP
    Many Mexicans would like to see Weld in the post.

    On the Web

  • A short biography of Weld is available from the Massachusetts state site.
  • Weld answered Project Vote Smart's questions about his stance on illegal drugs.

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    Weld Ends Bid to Be Ambassador

    Gov. William F. Weld
    Gov. William F. Weld addresses members of the media outside his home in Cambridge, Mass., before resigning July 28. (AP)
    By John F. Harris
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, September 16, 1997;
    Page A01

    Former Massachusetts governor William F. Weld (R) yesterday dropped his bid to be ambassador to Mexico but continued forcefully to wage the personal and ideological warfare his nomination had spurred within the Republican Party.

    His voice heavy with sarcasm, Weld took to the podium at the White House briefing room to accuse Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) of distorting his record and of creating an embarrassing "spectacle" of "bad government" by refusing to call a hearing on his nomination. And he denounced Washington rules of etiquette that tell nominees "you have to go on bended knee and you have to kiss a lot of rings."

    "Well, my mother and father taught me that I'm no better than anybody else, but also that I'm no worse," Weld said. "So I said I wouldn't go on bended knee and I wouldn't kiss anything."

    Weld, a moderate Republican who quit his job as governor to campaign for Senate approval, warned that Helms threatened to become a damaging "face of the Republican Party." Other GOP lawmakers and operatives dismissed that, saying the fight had more to do with personalities than principles and said it showed above all the enduring power of chairmen in an institution that prizes seniority and senatorial privilege.

    President Clinton -- whose expressions of support for Weld had been tempered after the May nomination, aides said, by the need not to sever relations with Helms -- did not appear with his nominee yesterday. In a written statement, he called Weld an "outstanding public servant" and complained that the "American people have not been well-served during this process."

    While the failure of Weld's nomination was viewed at the White House as virtually inevitable, several Clinton aides said the timing of his surrender was a surprise.

    On Sunday, Weld told reporters he intended to persevere in his campaign to go to Mexico City and gamely predicted victory despite Helms's declaration that he would never hold a hearing on the nomination. Later that night, Weld privately made a more realistic assessment, telling deputy chief of staff John D. Podesta that he was thinking of dropping out. Podesta, officials said, gave no recommendation to Weld. By yesterday morning, Weld had raised the flag and told Clinton in a brief Oval Office meeting.

    Weld told reporters he had concluded that his battle, while possibly winnable, would have sown too many divisions and hurt Clinton's efforts to promote free trade with Latin America and other causes he supports.

    While nominally a defeat for Clinton, who had hoped sending Weld to Mexico would be welcomed as a bipartisan gesture, several White House political advisers said they were delighted by the fissures the Helms-Weld confrontation revealed, adding that they would have been happy for the apparently doomed nomination to linger longer.

    Helms had no comment, but his spokesman, Marc Thiessen, said: "There is no sense of elation over here. This is an unfortunate episode that escalated unnecessarily. . . . Senator Helms wishes him well in whatever he wishes to do next in his career."

    Drained by the continuing acrimony, key players in the Senate struggle over Weld's nomination attempted to put the dispute behind them and avoid any further fraying of the chamber's comity.

    In what may have been the most telling commentary on the episode, freshman Sen. Gordon Smith (Ore.), one of two Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee who bucked Helms in demanding a hearing, said the outcome was probably inevitable in light of the Senate's rules. "It didn't seem inevitable at first to me, but, in the end, yes, it proved to be inevitable," said Smith, the only senator to hold a news conference at the Capitol after Weld withdrew. "Senate chairmen are very powerful, and Senator Helms exercised his power in full measure."

    While "I want to be loyal to Senate traditions," he added, "I just think all Americans are owed basic fairness when they come before the United States Senate."

    Most senators issued carefully worded, even opaque, statements. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) was among the few who declined to soften his rhetoric. "Denying him a hearing was a gross abuse of power by the Republican majority in the Senate," Kennedy said. "Governor Weld's treatment . . . was unfair, undemocratic and symbolic of everything people on Main Street dislike about Washington. Governor Weld has come through this ordeal with flying colors, and Jesse Helms has given a black eye to the United States Senate and a black eye to the Republican Party."

    Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), second-ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee and leader of the unsuccessful fight to win a hearing for Weld, said he was "disappointed" Weld did not receive a hearing and, without reference to Helms, said hearings are part of the Senate's constitutional responsibility to "advise and consent" on presidential nominees.

    Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) -- who had criticized Weld and called on Clinton to withdraw the nomination -- yesterday praised Weld for having "made the right decision."

    "I hope the president will submit a nominee for America's ambassador to Mexico which the Senate can act on immediately," he said. Clinton did not name a replacement for Weld, but aides said they expected him to do so soon.

    At the White House and within the Senate, the reasons for Helms's antipathy to Weld remained something of a mystery. Helms said he was concerned that Weld, who had made statements sympathetic to medical use of marijuana, was not sufficiently committed to the battle against drugs. Many Republicans said they thought the real reason was that Helms believed Weld made critical remarks about him during his failed campaign for Senate.

    On the White House podium yesterday, Weld professed not to know the roots of the conflict but said he did not think his credentials as drug-fighter "could be the real reason for Senator Helms's opposition."

    Striking a somewhat whimsical tone, Weld said since September is "back-to-school time," he was starting his news conference with a story about "how I spent my summer vacation."

    "I sure had a funny summer," he said, before eventually concluding that "Washington sure is a funny town."

    Yesterday, many in the town found themselves debating the long-term significance, if any, of the failed nomination. Sen. Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.), speaking with Washington Post editors and reporters, said the Weld episode "has absolutely zero political significance. . . . This had more to do with personality."

    Several pollsters endorsed that sentiment, noting that however large a drama the nomination was in Washington and Boston, it had barely penetrated the national consciousness.

    "It's been a long time since someone came up to me and was upset that the governor of Massachusetts was not going to be the ambassador to Mexico," said GOP pollster Whit Ayres, whose firm is in Atlanta. "It's not the kind of conversation that becomes animated around the water cooler."

    "In Florida, most people don't know who Jesse Helms is, much less Bill Weld," agreed Robert Joffee, a Mason-Dixon pollster in Miami.

    But among more partisan voters, the episode may resonate and be used to paint Republicans in "exclusionary terms," said Lee Miringoff, a pollster at New York's Marist Institute.

    "I am sure the next time Senate elections come up there will be a fund-raising letter to Democrats making reference to the need to unseat this group of right-wingers in the Senate," said Miringoff. "It becomes part of the arsenal Democrats use to generate interest against Republicans."

    Staff writers Ceci Connolly, Helen Dewar and Terry M. Neal contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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