Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 7 to 0 today to reject a challenge by conservative Jesse Helms and retain outgoing Chairman Richard G. Lugar as the panel's ranking spokesman for the GOP during the next two years of Democratic control.
Helms, R-N.C., who had contended that the post of ranking minority member is his by right under the Senate's seniority system, did not appear for the tally and his name was never placed in nomination.
Lugar of Indiana, who was the committee's chairman during 1985 and 1986, had said the Senate rules were changed several years ago to permit members to disregard seniority in filling leadership positions.
"I see it as a vote of support for the leadership I've given, a vote of confidence," Lugar said.
No Negative Characterization
But he declined to characterize the vote as a rejection of Helms or his conservative foreign policy beliefs.
"I hope that it would mean to the country that the Republican minority on the Foreign Relations Committee will be constructive and responsible," he said.
The Republican rule in effect since 1973 states that GOP members shall select a chairman or ranking minority member "who need not be the member with the longest consecutive service. . . . "
Lugar staff members had contended precedents have since been set that a senator is not displaced once he or she has become a committee's No. 1 GOP member.
Helms to Challenge Vote
Later, Helms said he intends to pursue his challenge before the full Republican caucus of 45 GOP senators next Wednesday. He said today's vote was not valid because it was taken before the 100th Congress officially convened and the committee had therefore not been duly constituted.
Lugar said he had been assured privately by a majority of the Senate's 45 Republicans that they would support his retaining the top GOP seat on the committee.
A national network of conservative activists backed the Helms challenge.
Helms could have taken the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee two years ago, but decided against it. Instead, he promised tobacco-growing constituents that he would remain chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, a promise he now says was a mistake.