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Massachusetts Governor Weld Nominated to Be Ambassador to Mexico


July 1997

In late April, President Clinton named Massachusetts Governor William F. Weld (R) as the next U.S. ambassador to Mexico. The governor is said to welcome the nomination. Weld's nomination has been criticized by a number of conservative Republicans in part because of his support of medical marijuana (Dan Balz and Al Kamen, "Clinton Eyes Gov. Weld for Mexico Post," Washington Post, April 26, 1997, p. A8; Alison Mitchell, "Clinton Leans to Republican for Ambassador to Mexico," New York Times, April 26, 1997, p. A12).

Weld, a prominent Republican, served as Assistant Attorney General for the criminal division in the Reagan Administration. It is unusual to appoint members of the other party to ambassadorships which are frequently awarded to political allies and to reward party fund-raisers. Weld waged a tough fight to unseat U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) in 1996. This nomination is seen by some as an effort for bipartisanship. While at the Justice Department, Weld directed development of the 1988 National Narcotics Prosecution Strategy, a Reagan Administration plan for fighting drug trafficking. As U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, Weld was a strong supporter of mandatory minimum sentences for drug dealers. Supporters say Weld's experience would help him in sensitive and complicated policy areas such as immigration, trade and narcotics trafficking.

John C. Lawn, former head of the DEA under Reagan, endorsed Weld's nomination, saying, "I can think of no one better qualified for this appointment ... He has a strong, tough record on the major issues," said Lawn. "Would Reagan have chosen him as one of the top leaders in the war on drugs, the war on corruption and the war on money laundering if his record dictated otherwise?" (John C. Lawn, "No Drug Softies on the Reagan Team," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), June 27, 1997, p. A12).

Current Ambassador to Mexico, James Jones, called Weld "an excellent choice." According to Jones, Weld is sensitive to Mexican culture and knowledgeable about the country's history, and he has key contacts and an ability to work with the Clinton Administration (Steve Fainaru, "In Mexico, a look at Weld's future," Boston Globe, May 1, 1997, p. A1).

As Governor of Massachusetts, Weld supported a state proposal for the legalization of medical marijuana. "The governor supports strictly regulated and limited use of marijuana for medical purposes, and that has always been his policy," said Rob Gray, a spokesman for Weld.

Because Weld supports medical marijuana, critics contend that he should not be appointed to such a prominent position in the war on drugs. U.S. Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) said Weld "potentially messes up our entire (drug) strategy." U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-FL) encouraged Clinton to withdraw the Weld nomination, according to Sharon Pinkerton, a spokesperson for Mica (Jeff Barker, "Unpopular stand could trouble nominee," Arizona Republic, May 5, 1997,; Chris Black, "Two GOP House members express reservations about Weld on issue of marijuana," Boston Globe, May 2, 1997, p. A12).

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Jesse Helms (R-NC), whose committee will hold a hearing on any nomination to the Mexican ambassadorship, has aggressively attacked Weld's potential nomination. "I think that he is not going to be the ambassador," Helms stated, adding that he would block Weld's nomination when it reached his committee. "I don't think that he is Ambassador quality and neither do a great many of the conservatives and Republicans in the state of Massachusetts," Helms said. He continued, saying Weld is "a little loose with his lips sometimes and that sort of thing" (Steven Lee Myers, "Helms to Oppose Weld as Nominee for Ambassador," New York Times, June 4, 1997, p. A1; Andrew Miga, "Helms' remarks are red flag to Weld nomination," Boston Herald, June 4, 1997, p. 23).

Weld's nomination is currently "stalling," according to Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts). He said the nomination can be saved only if President Clinton gets actively involved. However, Kerry said, "I don't think anybody is talking abandonment at this point." As of early July, the White House has not forwarded Weld's nomination to the Senate (Associated Press, "Weld's Nomination is Reported in `Stall,'" New York Times, July 2, 1997, p. A17).

Both the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times condemned Helms' attack on Weld in the days following his statement. The Post said that by saying he would deny Weld a committee hearing, Helms showed a "patent lack of confidence in the persuasiveness of his own views." The Times called Weld an "A+" nomination and called for President Clinton to "call Helms' bluff and make the nomination" (Editorial, "The Weld Nomination," Washington Post, June 5, 1997, p. A20; Editorial, "An A+ Flunks the Helms Test," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), June 6, 1997, p. A10).

U.S. Senator Jesse Helms - SD-403, Washington, DC 20510, Tel: (202) 224-6342, Fax: (202) 228-1339, E-mail:

Gov. William Weld - State House, Room 360, Boston, MA 02133, Tel: (617) 727-9173.