Choosing Senate leaders

When the next Congress convenes in January, two crucial Senate Republican leadership positions will need to be filled. One is the Senate's top job: majority leader, to succeed the retiring Howard Baker. The other: Foreign Relations Committee chairman, to follow the defeated Sen. Charles Percy.

In each instance it is important that the senator selected provide a spirit of cooperative, bipartisan leadership in this divided Congress. He must work effectively with all areas of the political spectrum in his own party and with the House Democratic leadership as well.

The two contests are interrelated.

Candidates to succeed Senator Baker are Alaska's Ted Stevens, now second in charge as majority whip, Bob Dole of Kansas, New Mexico's Pete Domenici, Idaho's James McClure, and Richard Lugar of Indiana. Senator Lugar is second in line to be Foreign Relations Committee chairman, for which he would be ineligible if he became majority leader.

According to seniority rules, North Carolina's strongly conservative Jesse Helms is first in line for the Foreign Relations Committee chairmanship. However , during his reelection race he pledged to constituents, many of whom are farmers, that he would remain Agriculture Committee chairman: no senator may chair two committees.Yet speculation continues that under conservative pressure he still may take the Foreign Relations Committee chairmanship. Such pressure would intensify should Senator Lugar wind up as majority leader or whip: the chairmanship would otherwise pass to liberal Charles Mathias, anathema to conservatives.

Senator Helms should not yield to any entreaty to break his promise to constituents and accept the Foreign Relations post.

In addition, during Helms's Senate career he has taken a confrontational approach to foreign policy. The Senate - and this prestigious committee - has the responsibility of being an independent voice in foreign affairs. For the committee to assist in developing American foreign policy, the chairman must be skilled in constructive criticism and reaching consensus. Given his track record , this would be a difficult role for Senator Helms.

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