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Law of the sea by dark of night

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted March 8, 2004

A veteran Hill staffer remarked to me last week that for the first time since the 2002 elections she misses Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC). Helms finished his Senate career as Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, after having been chairman for several terms.

The new Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee is Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN), a veteran of 28 years in the Senate. Lugar has waited a long time to become Chairman. Following the 1986 elections he attempted to get his colleagues to dump Helms, who had shifted from being Chairman of the Agriculture Committee to Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee. Helms had long wanted to be Chairman of Foreign Relations. But in the 1984 campaign he promised he would stay as Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, since that position was helpful to tobacco and other farmers in North Carolina. He kept his promise for the next Congressional term but in the1986 elections Republicans lost control of the Senate, so Helms saw his opportunity to move. His seniority permitted him to move to Foreign Relations, but Republicans had devalued seniority a bit by permitting Senators to challenge a Chairmanship, or in this case, Ranking Member. Lugar, who was four years junior to Helms, made that challenge but he lost badly. Even though the Foreign Relations Committee had never had a strong conservative as Ranking Member, Senators still respected seniority and Helms was installed. Then after eight years in that position, Republicans regained control of the Senate in the 1994 elections. Helms became Chairman all the way through 2001 when Senator Jefford's change of party made Helms the Ranking Member again. Had Helms run for another term and won, even though Republicans again became the Majority Party, he could not have continued as Chairman of Foreign Relations since new rules put term limits on Committee Chairmanships.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell talks with Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Lugar before a hearing on Capitol Hill on February 12
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell talks with Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Lugar before a hearing on Capitol Hill on February 12

So, Lugar finally got the Chairmanship he prized. Although Lugar has a fairly strong conservative voting record, it was always understood that he was no Jesse Helms. Indeed Lugar's 1986 challenge of Helms was based on what was perceived as concern about Helms' conservatism. Surprisingly, Helms got along well with his Democrat colleagues. First there was Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-RI) and then later Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE). Together they forged a bi-partisan approach to foreign policy. But one thing Helms did was to sit on various treaties, which various Presidents had agreed to, but had never been ratified by the U.S. Senate.

The reason this veteran Hill staff member said she missed Helms was because Lugar has revived the Law of the Sea Treaty and got it passed out of committee. This treaty had been bottled up since early in the Reagan Administration when the President made it clear he did not support it.

Something has happened to Lugar in this episode because the way he behaved regarding this treaty is not vintage Lugar. He would not let real opponents of the treaty testify against it. He passed it without warning in what we call in the Senate, "a Midnight-style raid." He prevented other Senators on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees from seeing the whole treaty.

Lugar, who began his long political career as Mayor of Indianapolis (in the late 1960s President Richard Nixon called him his favorite mayor), came to the Senate in the 1976 election. He soon developed a reputation for thoughtful approaches to problems. While always a globalist on international questions, Lugar has been very conservative on social issues and was one of the few Republicans who was willing to actually cut programs when Ronald Reagan was elected President. His evenhandedness on very emotional and highly controversial issues is legendary.

Thus there has to be an out-of-the-box explanation for Lugar's behavior on the Law of the Sea Treaty, which is a huge giveaway of American sovereignty, and which sets up a system to transfer wealth from the United States to places that don't deserve it. In addition, this treaty is a real step toward global government, giving decisions on matters of concern to America - to The Hague.

It is not like Lugar to want to pass something like this with an iron hand. First, because Indiana is a very conservative state when it comes to issues such as this. Second, because this undoes his long-established reputation for fairness and evenhandedness. Lugar ran for president briefly in 1996. His campaign was short lived. At his age, he is not likely to try that again.

So what is he angling for with this move which is bound to be unpopular back home and which may not even sit well with George Bush?

Well, John Kerry has at least an even chance to be elected President. If some polls are right, he has a better than even chance. No doubt Lugar has given up his ambitions to be President, but the next best thing for a globalist such as Lugar would be to be Secretary of State. Now, Senator Kerry has already suggested that he might bring Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) into his Administration if elected to the Presidency, so why not Lugar? About the only thing that could explain Lugar's behavior is that he is angling for Secretary of State in a Kerry Administration.

Of course, Lugar's longtime associate and former Chief of Staff, Mitch Daniels, is running for Governor of Indiana. Daniels thought he would be running in an open seat. But the incumbent Governor up and died. And the Lt. Governor, who then became Governor, said he was retiring too. Apparently, however, he liked living in the Governor's mansion. He now is running for election as the incumbent. If Kerry wins, and a Democrat were Governor of Indiana, a Lugar appointment as Secretary of State would also put another Democrat in the U.S. Senate. That might even switch party control, which would be in Kerry's interest.

That theory may be wrong, but whatever accounts for Lugar's sudden rash of unfairness, the Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist, who schedules legislation for a vote, must keep the Law of the Sea Treaty from coming to a vote.

Perhaps if Sen. Frist delivers a bit of reality to the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he will return to his penchant for fairness and decency. The old Lugar was certainly preferable to the new one.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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