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Guinier Nomination All but Dead, Officials Say : Civil rights: Clinton finds strong opposition in the Senate. Friends of Justice Dept. nominee vow to fight on.

June 03, 1993|DAVID LAUTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — After a day of Senate vote counting and frantic signaling from the White House, President Clinton all but abandoned his controversial nomination of C. Lani Guinier to head the Justice Department's civil rights division, officials said Wednesday.

An assessment that the nomination probably would have to be withdrawn was made Wednesday evening--after Clinton, Howard Paster, his chief legislative liaison, and other senior White House officials spent much of the day calling senators to gauge the depth of their opposition to her.

By evening, when they reviewed the results, the picture seemed clear, even to those aides who had supported the nominee.

"Everyone knows what's going to happen, and we all know it's going to be sooner rather than later, it's just a question of how," said one senior aide. Clinton advisers remained hopeful that Guinier would bow to the inevitable and withdraw.

But Guinier, in an interview Wednesday night on ABC's "Nightline," said: "Fairness requires that I be given an opportunity to present my views to the Senate." And she declared: "My own mother does not recognize me" from portrayals of her in the press.

She concluded the interview by saying: "I have every expectation that if given a chance (to appear before the Senate) I will succeed."

It appeared increasingly likely, however, that she would not get that chance.

The Guinier nomination and a decision to withdraw it, coming on top of a series of other missteps that have shaken the Clinton White House in recent weeks, could inflict damage on the already beleaguered Administration. It suggests that the President made a sensitive personnel selection without adequate study. And it plunges the White House into a political imbroglio that is likely to alienate black supporters and liberal activists.

Clinton advisers, however, argued that the President would suffer even more by sticking with Guinier through what promised to be a long and bloody confirmation battle and said that they hope the move to drop the nomination would help convince Americans that the Administration was moving toward the political center.

Guinier, who has sometimes advocated measures in her writings that would give minorities a greater voice in local and federal government, including in some cases measures that would depart from strict majority rule, has been portrayed as an extremist who opposes majority rule and favors giving minorities veto power over matters affecting them.

Her supporters, on the other hand, have said that her positions--contained in articles for legal journals and other publications--have been distorted and that Clinton has failed to stand up for her.

Guinier herself told Atty. Gen. Janet Reno that she believes she has been "demonized" and must publicly defend herself.

Reno reaffirmed her support for Guinier on Wednesday, saying through a spokesman that she still believed the University of Pennsylvania law professor and former Jimmy Carter Administration official to be an excellent choice.

Guinier's appearance on television was unusual for a nominee in advance of confirmation hearings. It was preceded by hours of maneuvering by her allies and Administration officials, who at first had opposed a televised interview but later relented when it became clear that the nomination was doomed in any case.

Throughout the day White House officials signaled an inclination to give up on the nomination. Clinton, at a White House photo session, struck the first blow, saying that he had to "talk to some of the senators" before deciding what to do about Guinier.

The President's remarks were laced with equivocation.

"A lot of the attacks (on Guinier) cannot be supported by a fair reading of (her) writings," Clinton said. "And that's not to say that I agree with everything in the writings; I don't. But I think that a lot of what has been said is not accurate.

"On the other hand, I have to take into account where the Senate is, and I will be doing that and talking to them. I think until I do that, I should have nothing else to say," he said.

Clinton also authorized spokesman George Stephanopoulos to say that the President had recently read summaries of Guinier's writings--something he apparently had not done before choosing her--and had concerns about some of them. Stephanopoulos would not specify which statements he had in mind.

The spokesman repeatedly declined to affirm that Clinton would press ahead with the nomination.

"That's up to the Senate," he said. "Clearly there are serious reservations."

In the meantime, Guinier's supporters had belatedly begun rallying allies for her cause and threatening a long fight if Clinton backed out.

"She is not going to just walk into the night quietly," declared one close associate. Backers of the nomination have begun rallying prominent supporters in the civil rights community to pressure the Administration to stand by Guinier and reinforce the message that Clinton would pay a political price for abandoning her.

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