WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun won easy confirmation as ambassador to New Zealand on Wednesday, posting another Senate floor victory over an old adversary, Foreign Relations Chairman Jesse Helms. But the fate of other high-profile ambassadorial nominations remained in question.
The Senate voted 96-2 in support of the Illinois Democrat's nomination. Supporters said the lopsided bipartisan vote should dispel any remaining questions over her ethical conduct. "The Senate's overwhelming bipartisan vote is a strong endorsement of her outstanding experience and credentials for this position," President Clinton said in a statement.
Moseley-Braun, the only black woman ever to serve in the Senate, also will be ambassador to the tiny South Pacific state of Samoa, previously known as Western Samoa. "Everything I have heard about these countries confirms that they are beautiful places with lovely people," Moseley-Braun said in a statement she issued from Chicago after the vote. "I look very much forward to getting to know them, getting to know their countries, and doing my best to represent America."
Helms, R-N.C., and Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., who defeated Moseley-Braun in her 1998 re-election bid, cast the only negative votes. Two senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, both Arizona Republicans, didn't vote. Helms' opposition to the nomination, and his demand that the administration produce thousands of pages of documents to support it, drew national attention. Congressional Democrats and civil rights activists accused Helms of trying to block the nomination to settle an old score -- a 1993 confrontation on the Senate floor over use of the Confederate flag in which she prevailed.
Helms, who in the past has shown no reluctance to use his power as committee chairman to block nominees and treaties, at first threatened to delay consideration, but then relented in the face of solid support for Moseley-Braun, including from the Senate's GOP leadership. While Moseley-Braun's nomination was speeded through the Senate, several other major Clinton ambassadorial appointments languished as Congress prepared to quit for the year.
These included the nomination of retired Adm. Joseph Prueher as ambassador to China. The key diplomatic post has been vacant since July, when James Sasser left. Although Prueher sailed through Helms' committee, two conservatives -- Sens. Bob Smith, R-N.H., and James Inhofe, R-Okla. -- put "holds" on the nomination on grounds that Prueher was too partial to China, even though he oversaw a 1996 confrontation with China in the Strait of Taiwan as commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific.
Smith also demanded documents from the Pentagon detailing U.S. defense plans for Taiwan. He said he wanted to review the documents before deciding whether to continue opposing Prueher's nomination.
Two ambassadorial nominations -- that of Deputy U.N. Ambassador Peter Burleigh to be ambassador to the Philippines and Carl Spielvogel to be ambassador to the Slovak Republic -- remain in limbo, as they have since July. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is keeping "holds" on them in an unrelated standoff with the State Department over its treatment of a career employee he claims was punished for sharing information on U.N. financial irregularities with Congress.
By Senate custom, any senator can block a nomination, at least temporarily, with a "hold." This tactic becomes a potent weapon near the end of any congressional session.
Also still pending as the recess nears are former National Public Radio President Delano Lewis for South Africa, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Charles Manatt for the Dominican Republic, Anthony S. Harrington for Brazil and Martin Indyk for a second tour as ambassador to Israel. There are also dozens of judicial and other nominations pending and Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., was planning to combine those without controversy into one package to be voted on at once.