KWAME HOLMAN: The first order of business for all Senators this morning was to come to the floor and vote on Andrew Cuomo's nomination to be the next Secretary of Housing & Urban Development. Cuomo, the son of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, was an undersecretary at HUD under Henry Cisneros. Cuomo has promised to streamline the department by cutting nearly 3,000 jobs from HUD's work force of more than 10,000. The Senate offered no opposition to Cuomo's nomination. He was confirmed unanimously.
SPOKESMAN: The yeas are 99. The nays are zero. And the nomination is confirmed.
KWAME HOLMAN: From the Senate floor most members headed to their committee assignments in the office buildings across from the capitol. In the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Senators voted fifteen to one to recommend the full Senate confirm William Daley as Commerce Secretary. Daley, a Chicago lawyer and brother of that city's mayor, also promises he'd streamline his department by eliminating one hundred of two hundred fifty-six politically appointed positions at the Commerce Department by the end of the year. The Committee then shifted to President Clinton's choice for transportation secretary, former Arkansan Rodney Slater.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN, Chairman, Commerce Committee: As we consider this nominee--nomination and execute our constitutional advice and consent responsibilities, this committee must examine three critical questions: Mr. Slater's qualifications and fitness to head the department, his goals and priorities as secretary, and his plans to ensure that the department serves the public interest efficiently, effectively, and in accordance with the highest standards of professional conduct.
KWAME HOLMAN: Slater is the current head of the Federal Highway Administration and is expected to win easy approval in the Senate.
RODNEY SLATER, Transportation Secretary-designate: First and foremost, as you have noted the importance of safety, safety and security of all of our nation's transportation systems will be my highest, I note again, my highest priority, a moral commitment, as well as a policy imperative. Nothing is more important to me, and as you have noted, to you, Mr. Chairman, and I know to the members of this committee and the American people than securing a safe transportation system.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee was considering the nomination of Charlene Barshefsky to become U.S. Trade Representative. She now has that job on an acting basis and today received high marks from Senators for her tough negotiating skills, particularly in dealing with Japan and China.
CHARLENE BARSHEFSKY, Trade Representative-designate: Since 1993 we have negotiated 24 market access agreements with Japan. Our experts are up at record levels, 43 percent in four years, growing at a rate five times as fast as imports from Japan, but, Mr. Chairman, there is much work to be done.
KWAME HOLMAN: That Barshefsky once worked as a Washington lobbyist on behalf of the Canadian government was thought to be a potential obstacle to her nomination. But Committee Chairman William Roth said he didn't believe it would be.
SEN. WILLIAM ROTH, Chairman, Finance Committee: There has been concern whether the work you did may fall within the terms of Section 141B-3 of the Trade Act of 1974 as amended in 1995 by the Lobbying Disclosure Act. That provision prohibits the president from appointing any person to serve as deputy U.S.T.R., or U.S.T.R., who has directly represented, aided, or advised a foreign government or foreign political party in a trade dispute, or trade negotiation with the United States. To address questions around this work, the president has formally asked Congress to enact legislation waiving the law in this instance. As Deputy U.S.T.R., you were exempted from the prohibition because you were already serving in that capacity when the law went into effect. In view of the information you've supplied to the committee, I believe that the extension of this exemption by waiver is appropriate.
KWAME HOLMAN: Finally at the Foreign Relations Committee the room was filled with colleagues of Bill Richardson waiting their turn to voice support for the New Mexico congressman to become the United States representative at the United Nations. Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, a critic of the U.N. bureaucracy, closely questioned Richardson about rumors the president has agreed to repay $900 million in dues the U.S. owes the United Nations.
SEN. JESSE HELMS, Chairman, Foreign Relations Committee: Now let me make myself perfectly clear, as the saying goes around this place. I will consider it a breach of good faith and blatant effort to circumvent this committee if this is done. And I think you ought to take that word back to Pennsylvania Avenue. It is this committee that is working in good faith to produce a bill that will pay the U.S. arrears in exchange for meaningful reform, and I emphasize those words. Cooperation has got to be a two-way street. And I say to you, and I say to the friends down on Pennsylvania Avenue, it will be very unwise for the president to undertake to undermine the new spirit of bipartisan cooperation that we've all worked so hard to build thus far.
REP. BILL RICHARDSON, U.N. Ambassador-designate: The main message, Senator, is we want to work with you on this issue. No position is going to be set in stone. The Congress has its authorizing appropriations process. We're heard to hear from you on some of the things that you want to do. You're not--I think the worst thing any administration can do is try to bypass this committee and you and members of the Appropriations Committee. I think it's significant that a member of Congress was nominated for this position because I understand this process.
SEN. JESSE HELMS: Now, I want to cooperate. I want to have a bipartisan arrangement, but this committee is not going to be shoved around as long as I'm chairman of it.
KWAME HOLMAN: Today's hearings and votes continued a pattern of smooth sailing for the new Clinton cabinet nominee, but hearings on White House assistant Alexis Herman's nomination to become labor secretary have yet to be scheduled amid questions about her role in Democratic party fund-raising in the last campaign. Today, the White House issued a statement of full support for Herman's nomination.