Background: Intra-Party Politics
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KWAME HOLMAN: Massachusetts Gov. William is a very popular Republican in a very Democratic state. In an attempt to win a Senate seat last year, Weld appealed to voters with everything from dancing the macarena to diving into Boston’s Charles River to demonstrate his commitment to clean water.
The 51-year-old moderate’s effort to unseat equally popular liberal John Kerry was a gentlemanly, tightly contested affair. The two did split on taxes and welfare reform but shared views in support of abortion rights and gay rights.
In the end, Weld lost by 7 percentage points. The White House publicly floated the prospect of nominating Weld to be ambassador to Mexico three months ago. But the reaction from conservative Republican Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that controls such nominations, was swift and negative.
Helms stated Weld is “not ambassador quality.” He objected to Weld’s support for medicinal use of marijuana and needle exchange programs for drug addicts. Helms also criticized the governor’s record of prosecuting drug offenders.
Weld served as a federal prosecutor during the 1980′s, and as the feud with Helms grew more public he asked the President not to back off from the nomination. And he spoke directly about Senator Helms.
GOV. WILLIAM WELD: Sen. Helms’s opposition has nothing whatsoever to do with drug policy. It has everything to do with the future of the Republican Party. In plain language, I am not Senator Helms’s kind of Republican.
KWAME HOLMAN: In spite of the well-publicized war of words, President Clinton officially nominated Weld last week.
GOV. WILLIAM WELD: The next step, as I say, is try to persuade everybody that we should have a hearing, which I think is only in the interests of American fair play and then persuade people that I am, despite the contrary opinion of some, ambassador quality.
KWAME HOLMAN: But yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said Weld’s public statements about Helms were ill-advised.
SEN. TRENT LOTT, Majority Leader: The biggest problem right now is Gov. Weld shot his foot off. He held a press conference and bashed the chairman of the committee that holds his fate on this nomination.
I don’t think his chances are very good, and he hurt himself by attacking the chairman unfairly and with political rhetoric that was just uncalled for.
KWAME HOLMAN: Today, the President was in Las Vegas at a meeting of the National Governors’ Association.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I wish Governor Weld were here for me to thank him, but I appreciate the fact that he’s willing to go to Mexico. And I hope we can get him there. (applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon in Boston, Weld announced his resignation as governor, saying he’ll devote full time to a fight for the job of ambassador to Mexico.
GOV. WILLIAM WELD: Mexico is of critical political and economic importance to the United States, including Massachusetts. With the North American Free Trade Agreement and the regionalization of political systems and economies all over the world, our relationship with our hemispheric neighbors has never been more important.
Both the opportunities and problems facing us in Mexico are huge, and I am genuinely excited by the prospect of taking them on. I’ve been nominated by the President to be ambassador to Mexico. That obviously changes the situation somewhat. And it looks as though that’s going to be a long fight.
I’m not sure that I see it’s appropriate for me to use the governor’s office to advance my own prospects in that fight.
I think it’s better for the people of Massachusetts to have Paul take over, with a fresh charge, and have me go and ask a question in Washington, a very simple question, which is: Why shouldn’t there be a hearing on our country’s representation in Mexico and our relationship with Mexico, one of our most important allies?
I think you could make a case that the job of a committee chairman is to schedule hearings, not to block hearings, so that the people’s business can be done. Maybe that’s Washington rules. Washington is such a respecter of persons, but I don’t play by those rules.
I haven’t played by those rules up here the last six and a half years. And if I have, let me tell you something, we wouldn’t have gotten anything done.
KWAME HOLMAN: Weld comes to Washington later this week for meetings with State Department officials.