Taking The Fire Out Of `Confirmation Hell'

For months, White House Chief of Staff Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty III has been dismayed by the Washington hazing ritual called "confirmation hell." The pattern is familiar: A nominee is gliding toward Senate approval when an allegation from the past derails the appointment.

McLarty may create a bipartisan study group to explore changes in the confirmation process, including reining in leak-prone congressional staffers' requests for extraneous personal and financial information. To head the study, McLarty would like a pair of greybeards, such as Reagan White House staff chief Howard H. Baker Jr. and former Democratic Party Chairman Robert S. Strauss. But how much credibility do two political good old boys have at a time when voters routinely reject officials' claims of virtue?

Besides, the ugliest confirmation fights are about politics, not nominees' peccadilloes. For example, the nomination of former National Security Council aide Morton H. Halperin to a Pentagon position was killed for this year by conservatives who were settling a score over his opposition to the Vietnam war.

While McLarty's goal of easing partisan warfare is laudable, he might take a look at his own staff. He has just promoted Ricki L. Seidman, a former aide to Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). She played a key role in the ugly battles over the Supreme Court nominations of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.

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