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Verity Wins Senate Confirmation as Commerce Secretary

October 14, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ C. William Verity Jr., fresh from winning Senate confirmation as secretary of Commerce, now moves into the front lines of debate over the nation’s trade troubles.

″Mr. Verity is a distinguished businessman and he is a leader,″ Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., said before the Senate voted 84-11 for confirmation.

The 70-year-old Ohioan and retired chairman of Armco Inc., the nation’s No.5 steelmaker, moves into a post left vacant by the death last July of Secretary Malcolm Baldrige in a rodeo accident.

Baldrige was a favorite of industrialists who saw him as more sympathetic than others in the administration to the problems presented by burgeoning imports. As a former steel executive, Verity has firsthand knowledge of the issue.

Senate approval followed a debate that found conservatives divided over Verity’s longstanding push for expanded trade relations with the Soviet Union.

Critics complained that he was lukewarm at best toward using trade sanctions to prod the Soviets toward allowing greater Jewish emigration and other human rights measures. They also said he was not a supporter of export controls designed to keep militarily useful hardware out of communist hands.

″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.

In Middletown, Ohio on Tuesday, Verity said the confirmation took longer than he expected.

″This whole position of increasing trade with the Soviet Union was blown way out of proportion,″ he said. He said Soviet trade currently is ″too small to be of major importance but could grow in importance as the years go by.″

Verity, in fact, has expressed doubts about mixing trade with unrelated matters. At his confirmation hearings, however, he pledged to uphold the so- called Jackson-Vanik provisions of U.S. trade law, which prescribe sanctions to exert pressure on the Soviets to open the door to greater Jewish emigration.

Helms conceded even before the Senate voted 85-8 to shut off a threatened filibuster that critics lacked sufficient support on the issue to prevent a confirmation vote, whose outcome had been a foregone conclusion.

Critics were obliged to be content with dramatizing their reservations.

″Mr. Verity does not seem to believe in the primacy of human rights,″ Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, R-N.Y., said. ″He believes in profits.″

Verity has been president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and headed the President’s Commission on Private Sector Initiatives.

The 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.

Verity’s supporters said his business experience constitutes 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.

″He has provided remarkable leadership in the business world and the trade world,″ Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif., said in urging support.

Verity supporters also said there was no reason to be alarmed about his views on trade with the Soviets.

″I have been assured by Mr. Verity that he is opposed to any talks with the Soviet Union that would not be beneficial to the United States or would involve strategic materials which could pose a threat to our national security,″ Thurmond said.