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An A+ Flunks the Helms Test

To almost all eyes, Massachusetts Gov. William Weld seems right for the job of U.S. ambassador to Mexico. He is a nationally important political figure and a dedicated free-trader, committed to NAFTA. Having built his public career as a prosecutor, he understands law enforcement and is sophisticated on immigration issues. He speaks Spanish. And even though he’s a Republican, he is a friend of the president and has direct access to the White House, which would be an advantage in dealing with the United States’ most complex bilateral relationship.

Mexico’s diplomats and governing officials like him. As governor of Massachusetts he has encouraged scientific and university exchanges and garnered support among other governors for the successful U.S. bailout of Mexico after the 1994 peso collapse. Understandably, the overall reaction was highly positive when President Clinton announced he intends to nominate Weld as ambassador to Mexico.

Enter Sen. Jesse Helms. “I don’t think that he is ambassador quality,” said the North Carolina Republican, “and neither do a great many of the conservatives and Republicans in the state of Massachusetts.”

The current ambassador, Jim Jones, is leaving the post by the end of this month and that gives the nomination some urgency: This is not a position that can sit vacant for long. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Helms can do a great deal of harm by pursuing an ideological vendetta against the moderate Republican. But such an agenda must not derail what looks like a good choice. President Clinton should call Helms’ bluff and make the nomination.

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