Weld Resigns Massachusetts Governorship, Brings Confirmation Fight to Washington
On July 28, William Weld resigned as Governor of Massachusetts after six-and-a-half years in office to focus on his nomination to be ambassador to Mexico. "Some have suggested, perhaps accurately, that my leaving state government will hurt my confirmation prospects ... [but] first of all, if you know me, you know I don't play by the Washington rules," said Weld. By resigning, Weld precluded any criticism that he was campaigning for the ambassadorship while still governor (Peter Baker, "Weld to Resign As Governor To Pursue Post," Washington Post, July 28, 1997, p. A1; Sara Rimer, "It's Mexico or Bust as Restless Massachusetts Governor Resigns," New York Times, July 29, 1997, p. A11; Robert Shogan, "Weld Keeping Eye on the Long Run," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), July 29, 1997, p. A4; Blaine Harden, "Weld Quits Statehouse to Tackle `Washington Rules'," Washington Post, July 29, 1997, p. A1; Lee Michael Katz, "To a packed audience, Weld terminates tenure," USA Today, July 29, 1997, p. A4).
After resigning, Weld met with Clinton aides to develop a strategy to confront Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC), whose committee oversees all diplomatic confirmations. Helms has opposed Weld and promised not to hold a confirmation hearing on his nomination, in part because of Weld's support of the medical marijuana and needle exchange (See "Massachusetts Governor Weld Nominated to Be Ambassador of Mexico," NewsBriefs, July 1997).
In a press conference on July 30, the White House criticized Helms directly for the first time. "The Constitution does not grant to one individual senator the right to stand in the way of the prerogatives of a president to name foreign emissaries on behalf of the American people," said White House press secretary Mike McCurry. The governors of 38 states also signed a letter calling on Helms to hold a hearing (Peter Baker and Terry M. Neal, "Governors Get Behind Weld's Push," Washington Post, July 31, 1997, p. A6; Associated Press, "Weld's backers seeking a way around Helms," Philadelphia Inquirer, July 31, 1997, p. A16).
Weld also went to Congress to try to gain support, antagonizing Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss). In discussing his strategy, Weld said, "It could be a land war, it could be an air war," which upset Lott. "Diplomats are supposed to stop fights, not create fights," said Lott. He suggested that Weld either accept a different ambassador position or look for work (Katharine Q. Seelye, "Weld Goes to Washington to Make His Case," New York Times, August 1, 1997, p. A19; Stanley Meisler, "Lott Throws Wet Blanket on Weld's Confirmation Fight," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), August 1, 1997, p. A4).
Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations committee after Helms, joined the fray in early August, and suggested that he would try to circumvent the chairman. "I must take the measures that would be uncharacteristic, at least of my normal mood and demeanor in these situations, and I'm prepared to do that. And I'm doing it now. Most people are still writing stories that no one is objecting to Senator Helms. And I am, diplomatic or not, objecting," said Lugar. Lugar suggested that he would use his power as chairman of the Agriculture Committee, which has jurisdiction over tobacco issues, to sway Helms, a tobacco proponent. Lugar also faulted the president for failing to help Weld enough, "I'm not aware the administration is doing anything on behalf of Bill Weld," he said (Katharine Q. Seelye, "White House Says It Will Push for Weld as Ambassador, But Won't Challenge Helms," New York Times, August 5, 1997, p. A17; Lizette Alvarez, "Lugar Vows Trouble for Helms If He Balks on Hearing for Weld," New York Times, August 8, 1997, p. A1; Reuter, "White House Isn't Helping Weld, Lugar Says," Washington Post, August 11, 1997, p. A6).
As Congress went into its August recess, Weld remained optimistic and was brushing up on his Spanish and "going through the normal drill of getting himself briefed on the relevant issues," said State Department spokesman James Rubin ("Despite Helms, Weld Prepares for Mexico," Washington Post, August 13, 1997, p. A19).