Helms Vs. Weld
The Senate returned to Washington this week to face a controversy for which almost nobody has any stomach.
The issue of William Weld's nomination to be ambassador to Mexico has moved beyond Mr. Weld's qualifications. It now involves the prerogatives of Senate committee chairmen in general, and in particular of Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina. It thus includes both Senate traditions and Senate personalities.
Mixing these broader questions with the issue of the nomination does Mr. Weld no good. The irony is that he and his supporters are largely responsible.
Weld has declared, "I don't play by [Washington] rules," ignoring the fact that those are the rules under which his fate will be determined. And his supporters have not only brought in the extraneous matter of Senate procedures and prerogatives; they have also left the impression that the rules give Senator Helms more authority than he really has.
On the other hand, Helms has weakened his own position by his staunch refusal to allow a hearing for Weld, thereby violating a long line of precedents of the Foreign Relations Committee, not to mention a specific rule: "Insofar as possible, proceedings of the Committee will be conducted without resort to the formalities of parliamentary procedure and with due regard for the views of all members."
The rules also provide a way around an impasse, such as now exists, by resorting to the formalities that are generally voided.
Under these rules, the committee regularly meets on Tuesdays. At one of these meetings, let a member favorable to Weld move to proceed to consideration of the nomination. The chairman will probably rule the motion out of order because the nomination will not be on the agenda, and he can probably make that ruling stick.
At that point, any three members of the committee can make a written request to the chairman that a special meeting be held.
IF, within three days, the chairman does not call such a meeting to be held within seven days of the request, then a majority of the members of the committee (10 senators as the committee is now constituted) can themselves call such a meeting. At that time, the committee can decide to have hearings, to dispose of the nomination favorably or unfavorably without hearings, or to do nothing.