What's behind another ambassador delay
Latest controversy over Moseley-Braun nomination points up Helms'spower.
Sen. Jesse Helms has been called the black hole of ambassadorial nominations.Skip to next paragraph
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That's because diplomatic hopefuls often disappear when they start moving through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he chairs.
The Republican from North Carolina has stalled dozens of nominees over policy concerns or personal disagreements, even stalemating some from within his own party.
So it would seem that there's nothing unusual with the latest imbroglio over Clinton's nomination of former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun as ambassador to New Zealand. But the controversy over this nominee may not be that simple.
In the machinations of Washington politics, some observers say Ms. Moseley-Braun's nomination is as much a purposeful effort by the White House to embarrass its foreign-policy nemesis as it is Senator Helms's aggressive use of power.
"To some extent, I wonder how much the administration wants this appointment to go through," says Stephen Wayne, a professor of government at Georgetown University in Washington. "It's like throwing sand in Helms's eyes."
Conservative activists say the controversy is aimed at galvanizing key Democratic constituencies.
"The Democrats don't have a Newt Gingrich or a [Kenneth] Starr to kick around, so they are looking for a new boogeyman," says Phyllis Berry Myers, executive director at the Center for New Black Leadership in Washington.
Helms has accused Moseley-Braun of ethical misconduct and is requesting her tax and financial records, claiming she spent campaign funds from her 1992 Senate bid on personal items, a practice prohibited under campaign rules.
"I wonder if the president and his associates even examined her record before submitting it to the Senate," he said in a statement.
President Clinton said Friday that he is attempting to reach an agreement with Helms. Hearings on the nomination could proceed as soon as tomorrow and a vote could come Wednesday, Helms said, if his office receives the "relevant documents."
But some say the real source of tension between the two is an old dispute over Confederate symbolism.
In 1993, Moseley-Braun in a speech attacked the Confederate flag, linking its symbolism to slavery. That speech is credited with stopping an effort by Helms to renew a patent on the the United Daughters of the Confederacy insignia, which contains the Confederate flag.
After Moseley-Braun's name was sent to Capitol Hill, Helms told a reporter he would require an apology for the speech before moving her nomination forward.
Another sticking point for the nomination is a 1996 trip to Nigeria in which Moseley-Braun met with the late-dictator Gen. Sani Abacha. The trip raised the ire of many in both parties.
Despite the controversy surrounding her nomination, some Republicans say a hearing should be allowed. After all, Moseley-Braun is the first former senator since 1831 to have an ambassadorial nomination blocked. She is also the only black female to serve in the Senate.