WASHINGTON — Industrialist C. William Verity Jr. won Senate confirmation as secretary of commerce on Tuesday as lawmakers headed off a threatened filibuster over his push for expanded trade with the Soviet Union. The vote was 84 to 11.
"He has provided remarkable leadership in the business world and the trade world," Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) said in urging support for confirmation.
Verity, a 70-year-old Ohioan and retired chairman of Armco Inc., the nation's No. 5 steelmaker, succeeds Malcolm Baldrige, who was killed in July in a rodeo accident.
Verity has sparked conservative criticism by pushing for more U.S. trade with the Soviets. He has at times expressed impatience with use of trade levers to promote emigration of Soviet Jews and other human rights concerns.
In hearings this year, however, Verity called himself a supporter of the Jackson-Vanik amendment aimed at opening the door to greater emigration.
Verity also has been critical of controls aimed at halting the export of militarily useful equipment to the Soviets.
"It is Mr. Verity and some of his colleagues who are now literally selling the Soviets the rope with which to hang the free world," Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) said.
Helms conceded even before the Senate voted to close off debate that critics lacked the support to block confirmation. They had to be content with dramatizing their reservations.
Served Chamber of Commerce
Verity has been president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and headed the President's Commission on Private Sector Initiatives.
Critics, however, stressed that he also has been a leader of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Trade and Economics Council, a group that promotes commercial relations between the countries.
"Mr. Verity does not seem to believe in the primacy of human rights," Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.) said. "He believes in profits."
Verity's supporters said his business experience would constitute a plus for U.S. efforts to climb out of a severe trade slump. Last year's record deficit in world markets reached $163.5 billion.