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Senators Make Remarks After S.F.R.C. Meeting

Speakers:
U.S. Senator Joseph Biden (D-De), Ranking Member,
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-In)
U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-Ma)
U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Ca)

BIDEN: Let me -- let me begin very briefly.

You all observed what took place. The unfortunate fact of life is that, under the way the parliamentarian in both parties have in the

past and presently interpret the rules, it is within the right of the chairman to do what he did.

It's a giant mistake, in my view. It is inconsistent with what we believe to be the way our rule in the committee -- I don't want to get too technical -- rule 3, which talks about basically comity, that we try to accommodate one another.

This place doesn't work very well when that kind of accommodation does not occur.

Let me just say one more thing, and then yield to Senator Lugar, who did not have an opportunity to speak at all.

And that is that all of the cases cited by Senator Helms relating to nominees who did not get hearings -- to the best of my knowledge, none of them -- none of them -- were circumstances where a majority of the members of a committee wanted to have a hearing and it was denied.

I know of no case -- and I can assure you, in the time that I was the chairman or ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, never was there a circumstance where a majority -- a majority of members -- wanted a hearing and one was not held.

That is a distinction with a gigantic difference. And so, let me -- having said that -- yield to Senator Lugar, who got mentioned a lot.

LUGAR: I think it's important to make two points, one of which is that the rule that we called the meeting under -- as Senator Biden has pointed out -- is a rule that says the views of all members ought to be emphasized, and parliamentary procedure should be de-emphasized.

It clearly says in this informality the chairman, in consultation with the ranking member, must finally make decisions about the conduct of the committee. So one interpretation of that was one we heard this morning. Another might be one in which you try to build consensus with Republicans and Democrats to try to bring about fairness for nominees.

It appears to me, secondly, that certainly the research that was done by the chairman is important. He cited 154 situations in which people have been denied hearings. There are all sorts of reasons for that. Many of them may not be very good ones.

Maybe we had a lesson in history that is instructive -- that sometimes democracy does not work very well, and that we all have our failings and our difficulties. But to cite the failings of the Senate is surely not a celebration of its strength.

And we were about today was an affirmation that a man can be heard, can state his case when serious charges have been made, as they were, about his public record, and when the president of the United States has made a nomination and called for advice and consent. And that is very important to do.

As a matter of personal privilege, I would say that, clearly, I supported Wendy Gramm. She is the wife of a distinguished senator, and I would leave no other record there. I would say that, in fact, I did oppose, as Senator Helms suggested, a nominee for the CFTC that I thought was unqualified.

But I was ranking member. I did not attempt to block a hearing. I would have been perfectly prepared to be in one. And I think that's the point. A majority have signed a letter -- a majority of the committee -- to want a hearing, not in judgment of Governor Weld but because we believe he deserves to be heard.

Finally, let me just say that it is important to note that Governor Weld is a distinguished nominee. I would not want the record or this day to go by without simply saying that Bill Weld served well as governor of Massachusetts and as a member of our Justice Department.

He's a distinguished American. He deserves consideration. I'm delighted that he came to the meeting today with Mrs. Weld, as he should have, to witness his belief that Mexico is important, that our diplomacy must continue on.

And I am hopeful that he will still have a hearing.

Thank you.

QUESTION: What's the next move, Senator.

KERRY: Let me make a comment. Thanks.

LUGAR: I'd like Senator Kerry to have a moment.

KERRY: Thanks, Senator.

Let me say that, in my judgment, having spent 13 years on the Foreign Relations Committee, this was a sad moment for the committee and a sad moment for the United States Senate.

What we saw today was the triumph of rules over reason and of confrontation over common sense. Senator Lugar just referred to the concept of comity. In 1797 when Thomas Jefferson was preparing to become president of the Senate, the first rules he wrote were rules of comity -- how the Senate could work together effectively.

And ever since then, it has been clear -- even in the rules of our committee. Rule 3 under which we came together today says that insofar as possible, all the views of the members of the committee must be taken into account. I think everybody saw today that it was possible for other views to be taken into account and they weren't.

And so I believe that rule was, in fact, violated.

Moreover, and I want to emphasize this as Senator Lugar and Senator Biden have, for all of the examples that Senator Helms cited today -- for every single nominee who has been blocked at some point in the process -- when a majority of United States Senators, duly elected and sworn, have wanted to force an issue, it has been forced.

And this is the first time in my memory -- and I know of no other historical contrary fact -- that suggests that, when a majority of senators wanted a nomination to be heard properly, that it wasn't heard.

As everybody knows, Governor Weld and I had a spirited race against each other last year. I probably could find a number of reasons to suggest that I wouldn't want him to be affirmed. But he is a distinguished public servant. He is somebody who has served our state well. He is somebody who, at very least, deserves to have his views heard.

And it is simply wrong for a majority view of a committee in the United States Senate to be blocked by one individual. And that's really what's at stake here -- in a sense our own democracy and the value of our own process.

And I'm confident that every citizen in Massachusetts today is going to stand back and say -- I don't understand how it is that, in our country, in our democracy, in the United States of America, our governor can't at least even get a hearing.

And that's the great issue in front of the United States Senate.

(CROSSTALK)

U.S. SENATOR PAUL WELLSTONE (D-MN): I think it's all been said. Let me just pick up on one point that Senator Kerry made -- I think people in Minnesota, and I think it will be this way with people around the country, and I think this is what Senator Lugar has been trying to say all along.

Governor, in all due respect, and I don't think I will offend you when I say this. This is actually a bigger issue than you. I mean, I just think people ought to be scratching their heads back home and saying -- We cannot believe that one person can just simply shut down a committee and prevent a distinguished governor from even getting a hearing.

This is a matter of simple justice. Today, several times, I tried to at least give Senator Lugar an opportunity to respond. I was not successful. But I am just telling you that I think people in the country will become engaged with this issue because they think it is a matter of fairness. Governor Weld, a distinguished governor, deserves a hearing. That's what this is all about and I think one way or another, he will get that hearing.

QUESTION: Governor...

BIDEN: Senator Feinstein.

FEINSTEIN: If I may, in the four and a half years, I have been in the United States Senate, this is the first time I have felt ashamed to be a member of the body. The actions that took place may have taken place according to the rules of the Senate.

They did not take place on the basis of democratic principles. The distinguished Senator Lugar was not given an opportunity to respond when his integrity was impugned.

The nominee of the president of the United States for a country deeply troubled, and there is no state more impacted by Mexico than California, there's no ambassadorship in which I have a deeper interest than this one because of that impact, is not going to be given an opportunity to state his case.

That's not the way the greatest deliberative body in the land should act. I would hazard a guess that there is no town council anywhere in the United States that would do this kind of thing and a majority has sided with Senator Lugar, has said give Governor Weld an opportunity to make his case, to be heard by the Senate of the United States and I must say, it is with deep shame that I now see that he is not going to be given that opportunity.

QUESTION: Governor, do you concede defeat? If so, why not?

WELD: I think the spectacle in the hearing room was sad in a way. It seemed almost that the chairman was set on a course to prove that the United States Senate is a despotic institution.

I don't believe that that's true for a minute. I worked in the United States Senate in the 1960s for the late Senator Jacob Javits of New York and I was proud to work in the Senate and to see the free and open and robust debate on issues that so often characterizes its proceedings.

I think what happened in the hearing room today was an aberration. The appeal to other aberrant circumstances which may have explanations of their own it seems to me is mistaking the problem for the solution.

As Senator Lugar said, we can always work to perfect and purify our Democratic processes. Democracy has been called the worst form of government except for every other form of government and I think an implication of that is that we can always strive to do better.

There was no effort, in the room today, to strive to do better and I would just add that we are a majority of the members not only of the Foreign Relations Committee but of the United States Senate have declared their view that there should be a fair hearing for the president's nominee.

It is quite clear that the attempt by a member to demonstrate that the Senate is, at bottom, a despotic institution is bound, ultimately, to fail.

QUESTION: Governor Weld, Senator Biden said that he was an optimist but not stupid. Senator Feinstein just said it is now clear that you are not going to be given your day, are you now prepared to ask that your nomination be withdrawn?

WELD: Well, you know, I tend to agree with Senator Wellstone. I think people out there on main street are not going to understand why one person should be able to make a decision to override a matter that, by our Constitution, is vested in the president and all 100 members of the United States Senate. That's where the appeal lies at this point I think.

BIDEN: Let me, governor with all due respect, let me be more precise where the appeal lies. The appeal lies with Trent Lott. Under the rules, it is clear that there is nothing we can -- and John Kerry's already asked me to ask for another meeting. We can write our letters again. We can do the same process, we can go through this again. And, maybe that's what we do, but, there is a contemplation in a bazaar way of despotism, I guess, in committees, and that is that you can discharge -- the majority of the senate can discharge a nomination or anything else from the senate.

So, the rules aren't as moribund and as bazaar as they have been exercised today. Now, the question is whether the person who controls that is going to act like Senator Helms did or going to allow for hearing. So, let's not play games here -- this is a real simple process.

I was told after my comments today, when I opened very briefly, I was slipped a note by my staff saying CNN says Biden's thrown in the towel. Well, Biden hasn't thrown in the towel. The fact of the matter is Biden's not pollyanish. Its real simple. There is -- let's put it where it is now. It is clear that under the rules Senator Helms can prevent a hearing from now to doomsday. You can all play games about it -- unless you can change Senator Helms's notion by appealing to public pressure. I've served with him 25 years -- I've never seen that happen. It may. It may. I've never seen it happen.

Now, there's a second route that I think we should concentrate on. And the second route is getting the entire United States Senate, getting over 50 members of the Senate to say we want that nomination discharged. That is real easy. All the majority leader has to do is say bingo. There's no requirement there be a hearing held in order for someone to be considered. There is nothing in the Constitution that says that. So, the Republicans have to step up to the ball. I guarantee you. I will get every Democrat. I'll get every Democrat.

QUESTION: Do you support this charge, senator?

BIDEN: Charge. What charge.

QUESTION: Do you support a discharge for this one right now?

BIDEN: Sure I do. I support anything that's going to get this guy a vote. Look. This guy was head of the criminal division, for God sake. Soft on crime?

WELD: Testified before you 25 times, Senator.

BIDEN: You know, the problem is he's too tough sometimes.

QUESTION: Senator Trent Lott is already involved in the withdrawal.

BIDEN: I got that. But, look. Who is likely to yield a...

QUESTION: Why do you have any hope that they're going to do anything else?

BIDEN: Because it's my job. It's real simple. It's my job, and look. Look, I shouldn't be so blunt, but I'm going to do it anyway. Who do you think would likely yield to national pressure. Helms or Lott? What do you think?

WELD: And there will be the national pressure.

QUESTION: Senator, when will you make a request to Lott?

BIDEN: We've already mentioned it to Lott. We've already mentioned, now there is no formal mechanism to do that that I'm aware of other than -- he'll hear it, you know, he'll watch the news, he'll know you asked me the question. I will personally tell him. We will all personally tell him -- I suspect. He should move.

QUESTION: Senator, did you make the request before he asked for the withdrawal?

BIDEN: Yes, I asked. Not in a formal sense. No, I didn't formally ask that. Pardon me.

QUESTION: Apparently it didn't strike a chord.

BIDEN: No, none of this strikes a chord unless enough back pressure is built. Look, its real simple. If we're all quiet this all goes away. He goes back to -- I don't know where he goes, but you're not governor anymore are you? But, all kidding aside. Unless we keep the pressure up, then the other team wins on this thing. So, we are using everything at our disposal in an orderly fashion, the way in which the rules of the Senate contemplate. And the rules of the Senate contemplay we use the rules to try to get a hearing. We have not fully exhausted that but as a practical matter -- it's exhausted in this senator's opinion. Although I'm willing to go at it again. Now, the record is clear. Helms is dug in publicly in a way he hadn't been before. Now there's only one person can lift the logjam here, break the logjam, and that is the majority leader. Now I expect you'll all pick up your cameras, I hope, and walk over and ask him what he's going to do in light of this. But the truth of the matter is that is the practical shot of getting this man to Mexico City. We need an ambassador. We need someone of his quality, his capacity, his intelligence and his diligence. We need somebody in Mexico City now -- now.

QUESTION: If Lott says no, is it over?

BIDEN: I know of no other matter under the rules. If Lott refuses to allow a discharge petition. I know of no Senate action. There may be some. I am not Bob Byrd and I'm not Dick Lugar, but I know of none, having spent a lot of time trying to figure out if there's any other way.

LUGAR: Let me just add. Hold on a second. Just one other factor in the equation that I think is important, I think this now does become a conversation between Senator Lott and President Clinton. This is above our pay grade. But those two individuals, the one who made the nomination, the other who has the ability to bring about advise and consent, hopefully will visit. So I would hope as opposed to a confrontation with either one to encourage a visit promptly, because I believe that that is necessary for this nomination and for our country's diplomacy.

QUESTION: Governor, why do you want to be ambassador to Mexico so badly?

QUESTION: Senator Biden?

BIDEN: Yes?

QUESTION: Governor, Governor, can you answer my questions?

WELD: Yeah. I think the potential for upside in our economic relations with our near neighbor to the south are as great as they are with any other country. At the same time, the economic potential upside is interwoven with seemingly intractable problems of unregulated migration and of narcotics trafficking that are a major threat to both countries. I think it's the most fascinating mixture of problem and opportunity in any bilateral relationship that the United States has.

When you add on that the political developments of recent months in Mexico, clearly, it's a very exciting and potentially very important time to be in Mexico City. And I agree with the senators who have pointed out that we need high energy representation of our national interests down there. It's not going to be a zero sum game in Mexico City. I think with creative and energetic leadership at the ambassadorial level, we can do enormous good, not only for Mexico but for the United States in our economic and national security interests.

QUESTION: Governor, (OFF-MIKE) to hang you. And Trent Lott isn't going to move, how long (OFF-MIKE)?

WELD: Well, let's see what's going to happen, John. I agree with the various senators who have said that this may move to a slightly different stage. There are two avenues that could still be pursued within the Senate within the rubric of the Senate rules. We are considering those. But I'm not sure a decision has been made to pursue either of those. We might repair to a different court.

QUESTION: Governor, weren't you depressed, weren't you depressed by the performance of your advocates in that room just now?

WELD: I was depressed by the action of the chairman in gaveling down even a parliamentary inquiry. I've never seen such a thing.

QUESTION: Governor, Senator Helms has made reference to your specific language you used in commenting on his holding on this nomination. He's talked about what you said, the style of your fight in this whole thing. You haven't had a chance to meet with Senator Helms in private to talk to him. Is there anything now you would like to say in a way of an apology for any specific words you've used or your style in general?

WELD: No. Absolutely not. I would say two things. One, months before I made any statement at all on my nomination, Senator Helms declared publicly that I was, quote, "not ambassadorial quality, unfit to be an ambassador, have loose lips, and was soft on drugs."

That's a pretty good four count indictment.

The other thing I would say is that I agree with Senator Wellstone that this issue is not, at this juncture, about strictly Bill Weld and Mexico City. This is about the Senate -- the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the U.S. Senate, and to some extent, about the relationship between the legislative and executive branches. And I think it's taken on a constitutional backdrop.

But I wouldn't do anything differently. I think we're in the right place at the right time, contending for the right principle. I think the proceedings in the hearing room were sad proceedings.

QUESTION: Do you wish that you hadn't said during the last campaign that you wouldn't vote for him for chairman if you got elected?

WELD: No. I don't regret anything I did in the campaign with Senator Kerry. It was a great campaign. No, I wouldn't do anything differently. I think we're in the right place at the right time with the right platform, contending for the right issue.

QUESTION: But doesn't this -- doesn't this divide your party?

QUESTION: Governor Weld, with regard to public pressure, what makes you or any of your allies think that anyone outside the beltway cares about it?

WELD: Well, I think we're right on the issue of having a fair hearing. I've heard from a number of senators -- not just in the Northeast -- from the Western part of the country as well, that when they went home for the August recess, believe it or not, this issue of a fair hearing on this nomination was number one on their constituents' minds.

Now, that doesn't happen very often, that people are that interested in an ambassadorial nomination. But I think people sense that this perhaps is a little bit of a turning point, a watershed, in terms of our democratic institutions.

Senator Helms said -- he complained, in fact, that the rule invoked by Senator Lugar as rarely been invoked. And Senator Helms said that disapprovingly, implying that it should not be invoked.

I would draw the opposite conclusion. I would say it's high time that that rule be invoked.

QUESTION: In what states is this issue on people's minds?

WELD: I don't want to dime out any individual senators.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: If the president of the United States meets with the Majority Leader as these senators say they hope, what do you think is more important to the president, Bill Weld in Mexico City or a good relationship with the Majority Leader and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee?

WELD: Well, we'll -- we'll see what develops. I personally trust the president of the United States to do the right thing.

QUESTION: Governor, are you going to write...

QUESTION: Governor, are you going to continue to go to the State Department and study Spanish and go on as if there is going to be Mexico City at the end of this, or are you going to like take a little break now?

WELD: I'm going to keep up with the Spanish.

QUESTION: Governor, doesn't this divide the party?

WELD: You know, I did all this briefing stuff. And just in case I was called on today, I was -- I was prepared. Send me in, coach. I'll score.

QUESTION: Governor, doesn't this deeply -- do you regret that this deeply divides your party? Isn't this a break in the party?

WELD: That's a consideration and frankly, it's one that I've discussed both with Senator Lott and one other member of the leadership team, that that's something for them to consider as well as me.

When people say, you know, don't you regret that you're dividing your party, I'm not the guy out there saying we shouldn't have a fair hearing.

Thank you very much, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.


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