And The Beltway Nominees Are...Doomed

Los Angeles attorney R. Samuel Paz seemed a shoo-in for a federal judgeship last fall. Bolstered by a high American Bar Association rating and a pile of recommendations, Paz seemed assured of confirmation. But that was before the Republican takeover of Congress. When conservative groups attacked Paz's record of representing clients in brutality cases against police, GOP Senators balked. President Clinton dropped the nomination.

Paz isn't the only Clinton job-seeker felled in the ideological crossfire between the Democratic White House and the GOP-run Senate. Though it's still 15 months to Election Day, Clinton's opponents are already targeting nominees ranging from the federal bench to the Federal Reserve to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). More casualties are sure to come, threatening to make Clinton a lame duck prematurely.

This unusually early GOP sniping signals dangers for all future Presidents, who may see their nominees held hostage to an ever more shrill and partisan confirmation ordeal driven by a desire for revenge. Ask Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, and Zo Baird. "We're like the Middle East--an eye for an eye," laments GOP lobbyist Tom C. Korologos, who counseled Bork during the appeals court judge's failed bid to become a Supreme Court Justice in 1987. "It's out of control."

RED FLAGS. At first glance, the flap over Clinton's candidates appears contained. After all, the Senate has confirmed most of his nominees--approving 27 between Memorial Day and the July 4th recess. Still, the GOP is raising red flags, and the White House fears many of the 130 nominations awaiting confirmation won't be approved before 1996 election-year jockeying makes it difficult to get anyone confirmed. "We're concerned whether the Senate will have time to conduct

all these hearings before the end of the year," frets one Clintonite.

Topping the troubled list is Treasury Under Secretary Lawrence H. Summers, nominated for the department's No.2 spot. Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.), a member of the Finance Committee that handles the nomination, hints he may block Summers because of his role in the Mexican rescue plan. D'Amato accuses Summers of covering up the depth of Mexico's problems before the Administration cobbled together a $20 billion bailout. Summers and other Treasury officials "were not forthcoming to Congress and the American people," D'Amato charges.

BACKFIRE? Another problem spot for Clinton: filling Fed vacancies, normally a run-of-the-mill matter. In a rare move, the President backed away from naming Treasury economist Alicia H. Munnell to the board of governors after Senate Republicans panned her as too liberal.

Republicans also aim to tie Clinton's hands on other Fed vacancies. The GOP may force Clinton to renominate Chairman Alan Greenspan, a Republican, whose term expires in March. Vice-Chairman Alan S. Blinder, a Democrat, would likely depart when his term expires in January if he doesn't get the chairmanship.

Even lower-profile posts are being blocked. The White House may back off naming Sara M. Fox to the NLRB because the aide to Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) is too left-wing for GOP tastes. Another District Court nominee, California jurist Judith McConnell, saw her nomination fizzle after conservatives assailed her for awarding custody of a child to the gay partner of the child's deceased father rather than to the child's mother.

Having forced Clinton's legislative agenda to a halt, the GOP is now bent on crimping his remaining power to fill key government posts. But undercutting Presidential prerogatives carries a price--as the GOP may learn the next time it holds the White House and the Democrats control the Senate.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.